When Spooks arrived on our TV screens 13 years ago, it immediately established itself as one of the most bold and innovative shows around by bumping off its supposed lead character (curtesy of a deep fat fryer) in just its second episode. It was an unexpected move indicative of a show that was determined to push boundaries with terrifying plots that seemed to pre-empt the headlines and emotionally resonant character development.
Now, four years after it bowed out following a ten series run and several BAFTA nominations, Spooks has made the leap to the big screen with The Greater Good, but does it still have that same indelible spark?
In a word, no. Since it was last on screen, the Spooks-model has been used as a launch-pad for numerous morally ambiguous spy thrillers and it’s therefore impossible not to find this film a little bit dated. Nevertheless, it’s still a solid if unspectacular thriller that promises an enjoyable hour and 45 minutes of high-octane hokum.
Having anchored the series for the entirety of its run, Peter Firth’s experienced MI5 chief Harry Pearce naturally takes centre stage here as an imminent attack on London threatens to destroy the British intelligence service.
After presiding over a botched handover that allowed high profile terrorist Adem Qasim (Gabel) to escape MI5 custody, Harry is dishonourably removed from the service. Faking his own death by disappearing into the Thames, Harry goes dark to track down the traitor who orchestrated Qasim’s escape. His investigations uncover a conspiracy that threatens to tear apart the agency from the inside so it can be taken over by the CIA. With no-one left for him to trust, Harry is forced to turn to his former protégé Will Holloway (Harrington) to help him save the day.
With a plot that takes in double crosses, tense jargon-swapping on the Grid and main characters getting killed off out of the blue, the film feels likes a bumper episode, and director Bharat Nalluri, who also shot the show’s first and last episodes, successfully harnesses the tone and style of the series by setting the action in the less glamorous parts of London for a distinctly urban feel. Filming high-speed chases through tight alleyways, fist-fights in cramped apartments and a hijacking that takes place during a traffic jam on a typically rain-soaked morning lend the film a unique flavour that helps set it apart from the slicker stylings of the likes of James Bond and Jason Bourne.
And like the original show, Nalluri infuses the action with personal dilemmas, presenting us with flawed characters who are fuelled by pained emotions that cause them to make irrational choices with invariably devastating consequences.
That’s certainly true of Harrington’s Will Holloway. An impetuous former agent and Pearce’s apprentice, Holloway has a Stark-esque moral compass that implores him to do the right thing regardless of the personal cost. It’s not a role that allows Harrington to showcase any skills we’ve yet to see him display in Westeros, but his character does provide an interesting counterpoint to Firth’s emotionless Pearce, a seasoned spook who methodically goes about his mission with ruthless professionalism.
The duo have a troubled history, with Pearce taking Holloway under his wing following his father’s death and then betraying his young charge after a botched mission in Berlin, and they therefore have a mutual distrust that creates an intriguing game of cat-and-mouse as Holloway wavers between believing his former mentor and trying to bring him to justice.
Yet, despite the gritty action and troubled characters, the drama undoubtedly falls flat. The challenge Spooks faces is trying to stand out in a crowded field of morally grey spy movies and with a plot that essentially plays like a low budget Skyfall with less charismatic characters, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that we’ve seen this type of story play out upteen times before.
Still, The Greater Good is a solid if underwhelming cinematic debut for the Spooks series that features intriguing characters and a familiar style to please long-term fans, but one that is unlikely to leave a lasting impression.
Runtime: 104 mins; Genre: Spy Thriller; Released: 8 May 2015;
Director: Bharat Nalluri; Screenwriter: Jonathan Brackley, Sam Vincent;
Starring: Peter Firth, Kit Harington, Elyes Gabel, Jennifer Ehle
Click here to watch the trailer for Spooks: The Greater Good