Just poking my head above the metaphorical parapet (also known as the massive pile of course books, academic journals and interminable vocab. lists) to review a T.V. series I watched for Cultural Buffet Challenge.
This epic (for a British programme) ten-series show is set deep in the duplicitous world of spies. It follows MI5’s Section D as they tackle terrorism and clash with criminals (and the occasional Cabinet Minister) over a ten-year period.
The element that made the biggest impression on me was the casting… or should that be the characters? Every actor and actress fitted the role perfectly, even if the character was created for just one episode. The level of effort put into each of them was phenomenal. Their motivations were explored and their characters evolved over time, esp. Tom Quinn (more on him in a moment) and Ruth Evershed. (Although admittedly, the Lucas North story seemed over-done by the end, even though it was an innovative way of writing his character out).
Tom Quinn (the main character of the first few series) was particularly good as a spy who desperately wants to have a relationship that allows him to be himself as opposed to being a face with constantly changing identities. Indeed, after Matthew MacFadyen (who played Tom Quinn) left the series, ratings slumped. The series had some wonderfully strong female characters in it too. Ros Myers, a strong, collected woman, always ready with a biting one-liner (seriously, she makes 007 himself look like a buffoon) was also a stand-out character for me.
Which sort of brings me on to the second element that impressed me: the plot. As a life-long fan of crime and spy dramas, (I can still quote bits from The Avengers and the Man from UNCLE) I’ve seen lots of, “Oh noes! Russian = evil”, and “terrorists must have a foreign accent and be brown (any shade)”. Whilst there was a degree of this, especially in the 6th and 7th Series, which have story arcs based around Iran and the Russian Federation, these arcs also include variations (innovations?) on these themes. So white, home-grown terrorists turn up, as do Hindu and Christian extremists. Oh, and the Russians turn out to be less of a threat than their English sympathizers.
In addition, if you compare when the episodes were first broadcast with what was happening at the time, the series becomes quite cutting-edge, with issues such as despicable financial practices and the collapse of a Northern Bank appearing at the same time as Northern Rock crumbled. The series that revolves around Iran’s uranium enrichment programme was broadcast when fears of Iranian nukes were escalating.
The other element I enjoyed was the distinctly English feel of the series: the gestures and turns of phrase that I missed whilst in France took on a whole new level of meaning when coupled with the traditional ‘stiff upper-lip’ attitude of Section D… The romantic tensions hinted at between characters /startspoiler, like when Ruth waltzed into her first meeting and ended in that desperate unfulfilled way that is so heartbreaking typical /endspoiler… The way in which characters tend to ‘keep calm and carry on’ and can only truly unleash their feelings when they’re alone at home.
Spooks is one of those series that not only restores my faith in British Television, it also makes me want to find more contemporary British television series and watch them! Nonetheless, I’m not sure as to how this series would be received in the States, so opinions from across the Pond would be welcome!
WNI’s Verdict… WIN!