Friday, 1 May 2015

Last Night's Tele : The Game, BBC2

Being Human creator Toby Whithouse turns his attention to the world of MI5 in the early 1970s when The Cold War was at its hottest with BBC2's new six part drama series The Game and after last night's debut episode it's safe to say I shall be hooked.

This is right up my strasse actually, given my love for the likes of Len Deighton and John Le Carre and much of The Game seems to have been heavily influenced by the latter, specifically Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The period detail here; the set and costume design is just superb, suggesting a bleakly beautiful London of 1972 (in reality The Game was filmed in Birmingham) full of cigarette smoke, drizzle and power saving blackouts. 

Our hero is Joe Lambe played by the ineffably cool Tom Hughes with his icy stare and a soft Chester accent reminiscent of Paul McGann's posh Scouse. Lambe is something of an enigma, he's our central focus but, like an iceberg, we're not privy to what lies beneath the surface as yet. The opening pre-title sequence prologue showed Lambe offering to defect alongside Yulia, a beautiful Polish chef he fell in love with and ended in bloodshed, but we're still not sure if his attempted defection was genuine or an attempt to infiltrate the KGB.

Whichever it is, it's clear he owes a lot to Daddy (Brian Cox) MI5's paternalistic chief whose position seems increasingly untenable with the snide machinations of one Bobby Waterhouse (Friday Night Dinner's Paul Ritter) who is clearly determined to usurp him. Ritter's flamboyant and caustic Waterhouse proved to be the BIGGEST of the ensemble; a closeted homosexual who lives at home with a domineering grand old mother (Judy Parfitt) permanently wreathed in smoke and offering glib, scoffing remarks.

The rest of the MI5 team was just as well drawn; Jonathan Aris played a delightfully sympathetic eccentric techie with zero conversational skills whose wife has to offer him tips on small talk which he inevitably messes up and is forced to cross out on his little list with a heavy sigh.

His wife played by the brilliant Victoria Hamilton is a staunchly loyal 'Daddy's Girl' and seems to be the real brains of the group but seems forced to be overlooked or taken for granted in what is ostensibly an intelligence service which is basically a boy's network, operating in a man's world. The tiniest roll of her eyes at Waterhouse's grander gestures tells us all we need to know and it's a joy to watch.

Shaun Dooley delivers yet another likeable everyman role to play a no-nonsense Special Branch officer assigned to the team as they attempt to uncover the truth of the KGB's Operation Glass, and what kind of a threat to our nation it actually is. Lastly there's young Scottish actress Chloe Pirrie, star of the bleak indie Scottish film Shell, as a timid little mouse of a secretary who didn't have an awful lot to do in last night's opener but whom, one suspects, will be a character soon showing us her hidden depths. 

 100% wasn't perfect TV; there were a few hoary old cliches and silly moments such as a forced introduction scene around the table in Daddy's office and a foot chase down the London backstreets to a deserted funfair culminating in a Mexican stand off, but it was still a bloody good hour of entertainment that fair rattled along. Do yourself a favour, switch your mobiles off every Thursday night at 9pm and sit tight with a glass of something nice at your side for this absorbing classy thriller. 

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