Chris Connor reviews the first two episodes of Slow Horses…
The UK has long produced some of the finest spy dramas across both film and television from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to Spooks and The Ipcress File.
Based on the bestselling novels from Mick Herron, Apple TV+’s Slow Horses looks set to be another favourite with fans of the genre. The series boasts a fantastic cast with Gary Oldman in a rare TV role as Jackson Lamb, the head of Slough House, a group of outcasts banished to the outer circle of MI5 nicknamed Slow Horses. Jack Lowden is River Cartwright, one of Regent’s Park’s upcomers whose grandfather (played by Jonathan Pryce) was once a highflyer in the agency. The rest of the cast is equally starry with Kristin Scott Thomas a stern taskmaster for MI5 in the shape of Diana Taverner, Saskia Reeves as Catherine Standish and Ready Player One and The Sound of Metal’s Olivia Cooke as Sid Baker whose reason for being at Slough House is ambiguous. It is not just the cast where there are star names either with Rolling Stone Mick Jagger on hand for the show’s grungy theme and regular Armando Iannucci collaborator Will Smith penning the script.
The opening of the first episode is high octane with River on a training exercise to prevent a terrorist incident at Stanstead Airport, this is a thrilling sequence setting the pace and lasting ten minutes showing that the series will be far from just the Slow Horses at their desks. This opening is more reminiscent of Spooks than say Smiley’s People or The Little Drummer Girl and the opening two episodes do a fine job of delivering Le Carre-like dark humour and world building while keeping the story anchored firmly in the politics of our times making some light touches to update the novel published in 2010. As with the novel a group of British based extremists who go by the name of the Sons of Albion kidnap a British student of Pakistani descent, an incident which sees the Slow Horses drawn into play.
Fans of the series can rest assured that the quality of writing which makes the original novel such a treat remains intact here with the characterisations of the Slow Horses in tact across the board and the casting spot on with the marquee names slotting effortlessly into the ensemble piece. The world of Slough House is influenced by Le Carre’s circus showing more behind the scenes action and with a slower pace. The characters are all flawed in one way or another and this lends them likability and a sense of determination to escape what might be a doomed fate at Slough House.
In terms of performances, as one might expect with a cast of this calibre, they are one of the reasons to watch the show. Gary Oldman is a fine Jackson Lamb; sleazy and messy on the outside but with a brain wiring at a 100 miles an hour, this is easily one of his best roles post his Oscar win. This is also a fine opportunity for Lowden to show his continuing rising star paired with his more reserved role as Siegfried Sassoon in Terrence Davies’ Benediction. The supporting cast slot in to place perfectly with Scott Thomas used sparingly but making the most of every moment she is on screen. Saskia Reeves’ world weary Standish who is a recovering alcoholic in particular has some strong scenes opposite Oldman’s Lamb.
The opening two episodes of the series are full of intrigue introducing us to the shows sizable ensemble but allowing each member a moment in the spotlight. The action we do get is enjoyable and shows the show has a balance between world building and thrills. The cast acquits themselves admirably and ensure the series is constantly watchable. Gary Oldman of course famously played the great George Smiley in the film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but his larger than life Jackson and slobbish Lamb couldn’t be further apart from the restrained bespectacled Smiley. The world created by Mick Herron which now spans nine novels makes a seamless transition the small screen, clearly indebted to the great espionage works of the past but still uniquely its own beast fully channelling the London of 2022. The second episode ends on a cliffhanger that will leave fans itching for the next episode with the remaining episodes airing weekly.