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The collocation of the words “London” and “spy” suggests a stylish thriller with a lot of umbrellas and conversations in St James’s Park. At the very least, some gritty leather jackets and terrorist-thwarting à la “Spooks.” Not, say, a self-pitying club kid and an irritating naïveté.

But that’s what we get. Danny (Ben Whishaw) stumbles out of a club at dawn looking like nine kinds of hell and encounters Alex (Edward Holcroft), who is a posh banker out for a run. Alex is closeted and slightly strange, but nonetheless Danny falls heavily for him, and they are together for some months. Then Alex disappears just when they’re supposed to be going away for the weekend, and when Danny manages to get into his flat, he discovers a secret bondage attic and Alex’s body in a trunk. To put it mildly, this does not jibe with Danny’s impression of Alex’s preferences, and he is therefore convinced that Alex has been murdered, and the sadomasochistic fripperies are part of an elaborate frame-up.

Danny enlists Scottie (Jim Broadbent), an older friend of his, to help him prove that his lover didn’t die in a sex game gone wrong. Things escalate quickly. Danny’s vague impression that Alex is “good with numbers” turns out to be accurate, insofar as Alex works for MI:6, and has been working on a world-changing algorithm of a truly absurd kind. The security services continue to concoct and backstop truly staggering conspiracies. Danny becomes increasingly insufferable, even to people who are trying to help him.

Atmospherically, it works. By which I mean that the blue filter suffusing everything more or less creates a plausible English misery. But the plot has holes like a Connect Four set, and only Jim Broadbent and sometimes Harriet Walter manage to invest their characters with any depth. Charlotte Rampling is mired in clichés of posh repression; both Holcroft and Adrian Lester are clumsy caricatures of men too brilliant to possess emotions. You never believe in Danny and Alex.

I would have forgiven it many of these things if it had managed to be tonally consistent. But its pretentious claims to authenticity take a nosedive into cheese fondue in the final episode, and it’s awful.

Stray observations:

  • A climactic plot moment depends on the supposedly secret algorithm being already implemented by the very security services that seek to destroy it. Okay.
  • Danny wears terrible jeans. I’m not sure anyone wears jeans like those, and I’m certain that adherents of warehouse parties don’t.
  • Scottie does have a very nice umbrella.

Director: Jakob Verbruggen
Rating: a robust TV-MA, I should say
Length: approximately 300 minutes
Score: 2/5

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