Slow Horses

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Spy drama

Availability: Apple TV

Storyline: Based on Mick Herron’s 2010 novel this dark and funny series follows the antics of a group of MI5 spies who have disgraced themselves in some way or other and have been dispatched to Slough House as a punishment. So Slough House is where the MI5 failures are sent. It’s a grubby and miserable place where unimportant work is undertaken and everyone has a secret. To add insult to injury they are nicknamed the ‘slow horses’. Jackson Lamb is the boss, a man with secrets of his own, and he regularly makes it absolutely clear to everyone how utterly useless they all are. When River Cartwright, a newly disgraced recruit, joins them in exile his insubordinate actions create chaos and risk for everyone.   

Film-craft: Award-winning comedian, scriptwriter, actor and producer Will Smith has done a fabulous job of adapting Herron’s espionage novel. The dialogue is sharp and Smith manages to bring together a perfect mix of comedy and more serious elements in a witty and intelligent script. The cinematography is perfectly grimy. 

Cast: The acting is outstanding in Slow Horses, and everyone stands out in their own particular way. Gary Oldman nevertheless leads the troupe and is wonderful as Jackson Lamb. He is obnoxious, abusive, unkempt and in every way dislikable. Yet he is the most compelling of all the characters and is the essential lynchpin of the series. Interestingly Oldman played George Smiley in the 2011 series Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, a brilliantly unobtrusive and composed performance. In Slow Horses he plays an older and much more battle-weary spy, but he is equally impressive. In a great counter to Oldman’s Lamb, Jack Lowden is terrific as the enthusiastic and ambitious River. He is certain he doesn’t want to end his career in Slough House and the exchanges between River and his boss are some of the best in the series. Kristin Scott Thomas is also formidable as the scheming Diana Taverner, the deputy head of MI5. Her office is in the more salubrious part of town.  

Personal Comments: Slow Horses is a darkly humorous, intense and clever series that shows us a rather different side of the spy business. While the plot might be overly complex and not particularly credible, particularly in the second series, none of this really matters. The wonderful cast carry it triumphantly from one hapless situation to the next, making it a riveting watch. I loved every minute of it.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Period crime drama

Availability: Kanopy (AUS/NZ), Amazon UK, Britbox

Storyline: The first of this four-episode series is based on the book by Kate Summerscale, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House, which won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction in 2008. The investigation into the 1860s murder of three-year old Saville Kent created considerable press attention at the time, particularly as it related to the child of a wealthy family in terrible circumstances. Investigating officer Detective Inspector Jack Whicher, a working class member of the police, was discharged from his position following much press criticism and public shaming after arresting a well-born young woman for the crime. The subsequent three episodes are fictionalised accounts of Jack Whicher in his role as private enquiry agent, sometimes working with his old colleagues at the police, but more often in conflict with them. As he investigates similar crimes they trigger earlier traumas that expose the fragility of his own mental health. 

Film-craft: Created for the ITV by the British Hat Trick Productions this is a finely detailed, high quality period drama. There is considerable attention to detail which provides the series a strong sense of authenticity. The historic Chatham Dockyard in Kent is used to great effect in depicting areas of London.

Cast: Playing the lead in the series, Paddy Considine is exceptional as Detective Inspector Whicher. In an outstanding performance he brings strength and vulnerability to the role and is a constant presence in all the episodes. Considine is ably joined by William Beck and Tim Pigott-Smith as his once supportive police colleagues, Dolly Williamson and Commissioner Mayne. All three provide an important continuity throughout the series. Other well-known actors then appear in single episodes, for example Peter Capaldi in episode 1, and Olivia Colman in episode 2, bringing further heft to the series. 

Personal Comments: Not necessarily a fan of historical crime fiction I came uncertainly to this one. While there is a tendency to stereotype the societal underbelly of nineteenth-century London, writers Helen Edmondson and Neil McKay deftly explore the nuances of family life, crime, violence and issues of mental health, making this a successful and compelling series. If you like period drama with elements of crime, I expect you will like this one.

After Love

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Drama

Availability: Apple TV, Prime TV, Kanopy

Storyline: Mary was a fourteen year-old teenager when she first met Ahmed Hussain. When they later married the young English woman converted to Islam and assumed the Arabic name Fatima. She and Ahmed then lived for many years in the midst of a supportive and devout Muslim community in Dover. Ahmed, a ferry captain, spent his working life sailing back and forth from Dover to Calais. But when Ahmed dies unexpectedly Fatima discovers that the man to whom she’d devoted her life had a secret family in Calais. Determined to find out more about Genevieve, Ahmed’s newly discovered French ‘wife’, things become increasingly complicated when she finds Ahmed also has a teenage son, Solomon.

Film-craft: This exceptional film by English-Pakistani writer and director Aleem Khan has received multiple awards since its release in 2021. With a deft hand Kahn peels back layers of deception as the characters try to make sense of their feelings of loss and betrayal. Dynamics of racism and deception are exposed, and there is a wrenching intensity of emotion as Mary practices the rituals of prayer and grief in her Calais hotel room. There are many moments when Khan astutely leaves it to the audience to search for meaning – what is Mary thinking as she touches her body and her abdominal scar that we know must tell a story; what does she feel when she sees a photograph of Ahmed in Genevieve’s house happily enjoying a can of beer; and when she introduces herself as Mary is she meaning to deceive Genevieve or is it a step toward reclaiming her former identity? Avoiding the use of flashbacks there is also a clever use of technology to tell the story – Mary obsessively listens to Ahmed’s loving voicemail message, and texts are used to both deceive and to expose secrets.  

Cast: British actor Joanna Scanlan is stunning as Mary. In a courageous performance she lays bare her physical and emotional self with relatively little dialogue. It’s not in the least surprising that she has received many accolades for her role in the film. Nathalie Richard is also terrific as Ahmed’s French ‘wife’ Genevieve. Although they have loved the same man, the women couldn’t be more different. Overweight Mary is reserved and stoic, while the rival for her husband’s affections is a modern French woman, outgoing, with a breezy sophistication. When Mary turns up on Genevieve’s doorstep wearing a hijab and salwar kameez the French woman mistakes her for her new cleaning woman. It is an uncomfortable scene that speaks volumes about their differences, and both women carry it off perfectly. 

Personal Comments: After Love is an  intelligent film that illuminates the sacred and secular worlds of the two women and the very different lives they have lived with Ahmed. Slowly drawn and with a palpable poignancy we are taken through a journey of loss and grief. Moving rather too quickly toward resolution at the end, the film is nevertheless one of the best I’ve seen in quite some time.