Friday, 29 November 2013

Legacy : Review

After the impressive critical and cult success of Dredd (though lacking somewhat unfathomably, the crucial commercial success) this is what Pete Travis did next, a 90 minute adaptation of Alan Judd's 70s set 2001 spy novel Legacy for the BBC's Cold War Season which has been running this past month.

It's a suitably somnolent production as befits the slow burning espionage genre that the likes of Le Carre excels in. The cinematography seems to be soaked in murky brown tea and easily captures the bleak ambiance of 1974, the year in which the film is set; a year which saw the UK crippled by what was up until that time the greatest recession since the 1920s. It was a time of power cuts, three days weeks and large scale industrial unrest. In short,this was a UK that was massively the plot will go on to suggest. There's also something to be said for the camerawork, hand held and shaky it offers unsettling angles and close ups that seem to want to emulate, albeit it for its time, Sidney J Furie's The Ipcress File. But obviously not as iconic or as good (what could be?)

The cast is headed up by Charlie Cox an actor who shot to fame for the dismal Neil Gaiman fairytale Stardust. He seems to have grown into his own features in the intervening years and has recently impressed me as the former IRA soldier turned mobster bodyguard in season three of Boardwalk Empire.  He plays Judd's ongoing hero Charles Thoroughgood, a role previously played in the 1994 adaptation of his '81 novel A Breed Of Heroes by Samuel West. I'm currently reading that novel (it's very good) and so perhaps feel a little more inclined to the character as a result than the casual viewer may have felt towards him here given Cox's performance or the script by Paula Milne. It's not that either of them are no good, far from it, but the crucial empathy to get across to the audience via both performance and writing is a little lacking.  There's very little for us to care about, despite the twist that suggests Thoroughgood's father was a double agent himself, and that's a bit weird really. Here, Cox's Thoroughgood is little more than a puppet for the viewer to idly watch as he traverses the labyrinthine plot moving from one shock to the next. Perhaps that's an intentional move by the production team in terms of the genre they find themselves operating in? I don't know.

Supporting him are the divine and beautiful Romola Garai, a trifle muted perhaps unsurprisingly given how thinly drawn her role was but still nonetheless gorgeous, and Andrew Scott who is an actor whose popularity frankly baffles me. Yes he was ok as the pantoesque Moriarty in the BBC's Sherlock, but he's failed to impress in the glut of work he's since undertaken (bar an episode of Channel 4's Dates) and seems decidedly one note to me. Here he played a Russian KGB agent in London, cod accent and all. Very 70s indeed! Perhaps best of all is a statesmanlike turn from Radio 4's George Smiley himself, Simon Russell Beale as the MI6 chief. He frankly stole every scene in the most dignified quietest way possible.

As I say, Judd suggests that the winter of discontent of the 1970s was a dangerous vulnerable era for the UK and there's an intriguing plot to that effect at the heart of Legacy; a plan by the KGB to attack the UK infrastructure from within. This includes as Thoroughgood discovers, a terrorist bombing of Dungeness. I think the peril of this may have been more heartfelt in the novel than it actually comes across here. In short Legacy, though enjoyable, is just too ponderous to actually grip the viewer. A palpable near miss, alas.

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