This continuation of David Wolstencroft’s BBC spy series Spooks, which ended its run in 2011, takes the same basic formula – MI5 agents struggle to protect the UK from bad people – and expands it. You don’t need to have seen the show to understand what’s going on, though there are a couple of nice references that will go over newcomers’ heads.
It’s a spy thriller, and it’s centred on Britain, but comparisons to the James Bond franchise end there. This is smaller in scale, and less concerned with action. It draws its thrills from a twisty – if fairly standard – spy plot, in which MI5 loses custody of a dangerous terrorist, Adem Qasim (who professes to act on behalf of his “brothers”, but may secretly be pursuing a more personal vendetta), leading to pressure from the CIA.
After losing Qasim, Head of Counter Terrorism Harry Pearce (series ever-present Peter Firth) loses his job, and it’s up to promising young thing Will Holloway (Kit Harington) to assist him in uncovering exactly what has gone on. Harry is a slippery devil, and Holloway isn’t sure who he can trust – the employers who previously cut him out of MI5, or Harry, who told them to do it. The plot twists and turns on a regular basis, and does at times establish a genuine sense of uncertainty and threat.
Firth is really the star of this film (which seems only fair, considering his long years of service to the series) and every time he’s on screen he’s fun to watch. Harington is fine opposite him, but one of the film’s flaws is that it never really establishes Will as much more than a drone – we hear flickers of his past, but the character is still relatively thin by the end. So, Pearce aside, we’re left to invest in the plot, and it’s generally a decent effort, even if some of the twists feel a tad arbitrary. In truth, the villain’s scheme isn’t hugely original or interesting, but the film at least does a good job of telling it, so it’s never boring.
Director Bharat Nalluri keeps proceedings moving along at a consistent pace, and doesn’t let things flag. There are bits and pieces of imagination in there, but the film can’t quite escape its television roots, and does end up feeling like a long er episode of the show, with an increased – but only moderately increased – budget. Ultimately, it’s Firth’s film, and he ensures it’s never less than thoroughly watchable.