I’m a sucker for spy thrillers. When ‘Spooks’ was at its zenith I even managed to struggle downstairs with a banging headache, having been laid up for four days with the dreaded Norovirus, just so I wouldn’t miss an episode. This same devotion to the genre explains why, as soon as I saw the trailer for BBC 1’s ‘The Game’, I knew that my Thursdays would be wrapped up for the next six weeks.
Set in the 1970’s, ‘The Game’ is a stylish mega-moody British Cold War drama, starring Brian Cox and Tom Hughes. Hughes plays Joe Lambe, an MI5 intelligence officer who falls in love with the agent he’s running. Haunted by what happened to her at the hands of a Russian operative, Odin, (who weirdly has an obsession with peeling apples) Lambe finds himself crossing swords with Odin again when Arkady, a Soviet agent, approaches MI5 with details of a top secret plan: ‘Operation Glass’, a direct threat to the UK.
Complexity is the name of the game in espionage. Nothing and nobody is quite what it seems. In time-honoured fashion, there’s plenty of cigarette smoke, stuff about double agents and treachery. Brian Cox is a treat to watch as ‘Daddy’, Lambe’s superior, but it’s Hughes who delivers a mesmerising performance. I first noticed him in ‘Dancing on the Edge’ where he plays Julian, a vulnerable, slightly unhinged and edgy aristocrat. Nothing too vulnerable here. Despite Joe Lambe’s haunted past, he’s ruthless in his pursuit of the man who killed his lover. You wouldn’t want to meet him down a dark alley.
By definition, spy stories of this era tend to be slower paced with long camera angles, monochrome scenes, nuanced looks and hidden meanings. ‘The Game’ is more le Carre than Jane Featherstone (the creative mind behind the smash hit series, ‘Spooks) and a degree of mental agility is required to keep up with who is doing what. Against this, the MI5 ‘team’ is tight, the cast small. You really feel you know the characters involved and aside from their daily dealings in the murky world of spies and counter-intelligence. Herein lies the seed for what really knocked me out in the last episode. It wasn’t the revelation about misinformation or the fact an MI6 agent had been set up, it was one tiny little domestic detail: a packet of contraceptive pills discharged from a handbag.
Dare you to watch the series to find out what you’re missing.
‘The Game’ is on BBC1 tonight at 9.00 pm, and you can watch previous episodes on catch-up.