We last saw Sir Harry Pearce (a pouty but protective Peter Firth) in 2011, reeling at the end of a series that saw terror plots foiled but at the cost of countless handsome yet disposable lives.
Spooks was a BBC hit from the get-go, and kick started the careers of many famous British actors, with the likes of Matthew Macfadyen, Rupert Penry-Jones and Richard Armitage fronting its team. However, beneath all the MI5 jargon and double-crossing mayhem was a sophisticated and sexy drama that rather spookily and unfortunately seemed to mirror our reality at every radicalised turn (and writing this on the back of the recent Paris attacks is even more unsettling).
In an era where cinema has been dominated with secret service spies (think Bond and Bourne on the silver screen and 24 and Homeland on the small screen), Spooks managed to stay relevant – even above the rest slightly – with its intelligent script, likeable rotating cast and unpredictable twists and turns.
Spooks: The Greater Good (which screened here last week as part of the 2015 British Film Festival) is a follow on from the show we already know and love, and although it comes four years after the last episode, the look and the feel is still very much the same. We meet the head of counter-terroism Harry Pearce once again on the all important grid, flanked by a new team and yet another dangerous op. When ruthless Middle Eastern terrorist Qasim (Scorpion’s Elyes Gabel) escapes from custody under Pearce’s watch, the veteran agent responds by leaving the service and faking his own death in order to make amends on his own terms. Ex-MI5 agent gone rogue Will Holloway (Kit Harington aka “You know nothing, Jon Snow”) becomes Pearce’s changeable confidant, and together, the unlikely pair attempt to do a deal with Qasim.
As our leading men, Firth and Harington are up to the job. For someone who spent 10 years making tough (and at times heartbreaking) decisions from his office, Firth does a good job of convincing us that Harry’s still got it out on the field. From clues and code drops to umbrella shops (literally, not just for rhyming there), Pearce gets around while on the run. Holloway looks like the perfect charismatic spy – complete with man bun – but in the likability stakes, Firth trumps him tenfold.
As is the usual for every new outing of Spooks, the cast is predominately new faces. Although a handful of reoccurring characters who managed to avoid death in the series make appearances here and there – Lara Pulver and Geoffrey Streatfeild back briefly as Erin Watts and Calum Reed respectively, Tim McInnerny as the sneering and jeering Oliver Mace, and a surprise cameo from a techy fan favourite – brand new allies and enemies dominant the MI5 inner circle.
Stony-faced Jennifer Ehle does her dodgy best cut-glass English accent as Geraldine Maltby, the new MI5 Deputy Director General, whilst David Harewood (rather appropriately popping in from Homeland) provides the common sense as Joint Intelligence Committee chairman Francis Warrender. Agent wise, the girls are the ones kicking the most metaphorical ass, with operatives Hannah Santo (Eleanor Matsuura; Utopia, Doctor Who) and June (Tuppence Middleton; Tormented, Jupiter Ascending) trying to take charge of their units.
British-Indian director Bharat Nalluri does a good job in keeping the espionage equilibrium at bay, whilst snappy editor Jamie Pearson keeps the cuts clean. Budget wise, this very British affair doesn’t quite cut it in the Hollywood spy thriller stakes, but as a spin-off from the series it does well (and yes, it could easily have been a telemovie or another “special” episode on the TV if you want to be really picky).
Very lengthy opening credits hark back to the TV series, as does the bluey-green lens filter and narrative references – so get the tissues ready for some Ruth Evershed mentions (Harry’s one true love, for the ill-informed). As a stand-alone film it is acceptable, but as a part of the series it is enriched (also up for debate depending on who you’re talking to). The script is a little scrappy, and in comparison, original writer David Wolstencroft had a much more thorough and intelligent take, but then again, he did have the benefits of episodical storytelling which allowed for details and arch. Prior knowledge of the show’s style and characters are therefore, in my humble opinion, this film’s biggest drawcard, and I would only really recommend it to diehard and fleeing fans of the series.
If you are looking for a hyped-up, big budget spy drama extravaganza, by all means, check out Spectre at your nearest cinema. But if you’re looking to re-enter a world you know and love however, then Spooks: The Greater Good is just right for you.
Spooks: The Greater Good is out on DVD December 9, 2015.