London Spy

london spy_bMajor spoiler alerts: I normally avoid divulging major plot on Reel Charlie. I like followers to read what I think of a film without spoiling the experience. I find I can not write about Tom Rob Smith’s BBC production of London Spy without giving away plot. So fair warning.

I’ve been extremely excited about a mash-up of many of my favorite forms of story – British drama, spies, murder mystery and gay male love story. Lucky me to sit down this past week and binge on what appeared to be a perfect blend in London Spy, a five-part series from novelist Tom Rob Smith centered on a smart, somewhat aimless 20-something gay man Danny who literally runs into a mysterious, handsome man Alex early one morning. The two seemingly opposite personality types realize they have a connection and for eight months embark on a love affair. Suddenly one day Alex disappears. For the remainder of the series, Danny tries to uncover what really happened to Alex and why so many people want the story buried. Along the way we are treated to the beautiful, complex love story told in flashbacks between Ben Whishaw’s Danny and Edward Holcroft’s Alex. Danny we learn has been friends with an older gay man, Scotty played by Jim Broadbent. Alex’s mother Frances appears later on in the form of Charlotte Rampling. With a stellar cast, beautiful production design, quiet pace, and exquisite story telling, I fell madly in love with London Spy. Ben Whishaw proves his acting talent once again. Newcomer Holcroft proved simultaneously alluring and aloof, appropriately robotic in places. And the friendship between Danny and Scotty proved to me we need many more stories between the LGBT generations both in fiction and in real life. Danny’s assumption that Scotty would always be there and Scotty’s slow to reveal his own stories made for compelling drama.

Unfortunately cracks began to appear in the story about halfway through including the bizarre high-priced male escort ring and the realization of Alex’s discovery. I was willing to let these red flags pass because I was so in love with other aspects of the series including what many stumble through – the slower pace of London Spy. However, the final episode unraveled in such a bizarre way, I’m completely confused. How can a series speak to me on so many levels and then turn around and disappoint me with equal strength in the final episode? The absurdity and preposterousness of plot lines combined with telling rather than showing and then the uplifting happy ending with Danny and Frances ready to go fight the world together had me scratching my head in disbelief. Did someone chop up the original ending? Was there a writer’s fight? Did network execs not approve the original ending? No matter, bottom line is the ending failed on a colossal level. So how do I rate this series? Episode one showed real, if cautious promise. Episodes two and two rose to perfect, bar-setting levels, episode four started to show those cracks and episode five took a nose-dive detour into bizarroworld. Hmm. Still loving those scenes in the earlier episodes which prove you can make unabashedly gay stories without holding back. They don’t need to be relegated to the ghetto any longer. The public is more than ready. Just don’t steer us down the wrong path in the end. I’m going to give London Spy a 3 out of 5 and leave it at that.


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