Playing Q alongside Daniel Craig’s 007 must have made Ben Whishaw fidgety because next month he goes much, much deeper undercover in the BBC’s eye-widening new drama London Spy.
That title may seem a bit straight-forward but be careful, that would be to fall for the first of many misdirections. There’s nothing generic or gentle about this groundbreaking five-parter, which we took a sneak peek at earlier this week.
Whishaw plays Danny, a pill-popping aficionado of the clubs around Vauxhall down in the shadow cast by the brutish MI6 building. And despite Danny’s repeated insistence that he is “fine” he is hardly able to speak when he chances on an equally monosyllabic jogger (Edward Holcroft) at one end of Vauxhall Bridge. What follows — in the first episode at least — is a strange, shocking and, for the most part, utterly unpredictable thriller. It’s more a love story than an espionage caper but again not like any old love story you’ve seen before. To say more than that would be to spoil it, so we won’t.
But we can say that London Spy looks stunning with crystalline cinematography by Laurie Rose that makes the capital luminous, lost like Danny within its own hazy nightglow.
Speaking at this week’s screening Ben Whishaw said he was attracted to both the “beautiful, perplexing and disturbing” story and such a potent vision of London:
“I think it has an incredible potential as an environment for drama that is not always used well. It’s a moody place. It’s a bleak place at times and it’s dramatic and it’s weird and it’s full of unexpected things. And that does encompass this story: you’re going under the surface of the city. I loved that and I loved filming here, going to places you would never otherwise find yourself in.”
Writer-creator Tom Rob Smith concurs: "London is an extraordinary city; I think what is amazing is the fusion of old and new. This show is steeped in the tradition of the British spy thriller, I love them, and yet there are new structures appearing in it as well, and you know, I don’t want it to seem too arty as a parallel but the city of London kind of invites that view: you have these ancient buildings next to interesting new structures coming up, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t and you rip it down again, I love the sense of change.”
With Japanese lullabies playing over nocturnes of the Thames, nothing in the show is as it seems. We wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be Tokyo in disguise.
London Spy also features Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling and Adrian Lester. It will be screened in November.