SPOOKS: THE GREATER GOOD REVIEW

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One of the best British dramas takes to the silver screen? Was it needed? Did it succeed? Or should the BBC have let old dogs lie?

I won’t hide my bias. I am a huge Spooks fan. It came around the same time as 24, managed to stand its own, and became one of my favourite TV shows. But very much like 24, it was never afraid to wipe out main characters, deliver twists and turns every week, tense cliffhangers and nail biting cryptic dialogue between fellow spies and high ranking officials.

It may have lost the battle with 24 but certainly lasted the war. 24 stumbled at series 6 and never really recovered. It improved. While Spooks only really tested me at Series 8 of a 10 series run!

The last two series did feel like old hat. What was hard hitting soon became predictable and a retread of stronger story lines from earlier series. I guess there is only so much you can do with a spy drama. But the final series delivered a heartbreaking and satisfying finale.

Four years after the hit series came to a close, we have a movie. A close that was long overdue as the show seemed to be heading down the road of mediocrity. A fitting ending that wrapped things up but subtly suggested that a return wasn’t out of the question.

So here we are. Did I sigh? Denounce the movie gods? Nope. I felt excited. My love for Spooks not quite over and after watching this film . . . I can firmly say it’s still not.

The opening sequence set the tone. Tension bubbling on the back burner. Even if I found the dialogue a little flat and cliched. Spies ironically playing the game ‘I Spy’ while the “cocky” CIA operatives chat up the only British totty (Tuppence Middleton) in the surveillance squad.

However, my little niggles were soon pushed to the back of my head (momentarily) by the introduction of one of my TV icons, head of MI5 security services, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth).

As soon as Firth entered the scene, the fan boy excitement was back. Offering a pillow to a systems analyst who had time to rest his feet on his desk.

It wasn’t long before something was afoot and we were thrown straight into the action as a terrorist (Elyes Gabel) escapes custody during a routine handover.

Racy, tense and very much in the style of the Bourne films. But let’s not forget Spooks were there first! They even threw in the infamous TV title sequence.

I will emphasize that the pace really is put on the back burner. It seemed to chug along after a promising opening and Pearce facing termination after making a judgement call.

The bureaucratic sniping and dealing with the “red tape” spiel did feel like the Spooks of old. Unfortunately, that meant it was dreadfully predictable. However, that was all relieved by some cracking performances from some old faces (Oh yes) and a lot of new ones.

Tim McInnerny (Blackadder) was superb as Mace. Just as callous and manipulative as ever. The introduction of David Harewood (Homeland) and Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty) was a mixed bag for me. Harewood played the uptight Warrender perfectly. A weaselly two faced mediator desperate to keep both agencies at bay.

The only cast member that annoyed me was Jennifer Ehle. Normally I don’t mind her but what the hell was her accent supposed to be? Her twang (even though she was meant to be English) really grated against me. It was like she was trying to do an impression of the Queen. Terrible.

Disgraced, Pearce must look to the only person who can help him. The agent who he removed from MI5. Cue . . . No, not Matthew Macfadyen! I know. Gutted, too.

It’s only Jon Snow, of course. Kit Harington literally hits the ground running making a memorable entrance into the mix. Smashing through a cafe window to escape some Russians. Never found out why he was running? A passing comment would have been nice after an entry like that.

Harington was very good. The sulky scorned spy role suited him and he worked well with Firth. Their relationship may have been a little cliched (and strikingly similar to Kingsmen) as Pearce knew his father who died in a botched operation.

BUT it was still interesting to see their already fractious bond tested to the max. And yes, Harrington’s character knows nottthhinggg. One for the Game of Thrones fans.

Harington was the much needed catalyst to jump start this spluttering slow burner. Once he begins Borune-ing the place up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, I was hooked.

The airport rendezvous with Pearce was superb. Tense, suspenseful and every thing that won me over with Spooks the first time round. The numerous drop off points, the items of clothing with cryptic cards and the time frames. Brilliant.

At it’s best, it’s tense, dramatic with the odd shocker. But at it’s worst, it’s a little predictable and slow. The problem with Spooks is that you always know there is a bigger play. And the cogs are always turning. You can call things before they happen. That’s the problem after 10 series. It does kill the tension and some of the bigger reveals.

Firth was excellent as HP. Despite being integral to the plot, he does seem to be pushed into the background. A little disappointing. Harington’s Holloway is always at the forefront. Not a problem as he proves to be a worthy addition to the Spooks set.

However, Firth still gets his moment to shine and when he does, it’s great. After all the sorrow and tough decisions the man has to make, you really hope that there can be some solace for him.

I don’t think it’s a must for people who haven’t seen Spooks. There are a lot of new faces. When the old ones appear, you get the picture. I won’t say who, Spooks fans. Don’t worry. But there isn’t as many as I hoped.

And Guppy from Casualty has come a long way. Game of Thrones, A Most Violent Year and now this? He was brilliant as the maniacal Qasim. His American accent was impeccable. Take lessons, Ms Ehle. Tuppence Middleton showed potential. I just wish her character wasn’t so bland. But then again Spooks fans, who will ever top Ros?

The film may have been patchy but the last 20 minutes still had me trying to connect the dots. Even if some twists worked and others didn’t, the closing scenes still got me. And Firth stole the show, allowing HP to show a little vulnerability. Cracking his cold demeanour for a one moment before shaking it off and vanishing like a ghost. A spook. Proving once again why his character will always be one of my favourites.

The ending may have been ambiguous but it confirmed one thing for me. I’m still not quite ready to let Spooks go just yet. The film format certainly didn’t kill the franchise. If anything, it has given me hope. A few tweaks on the plot and pacing and I’m happy for it to continue. Cue freeze frame. Black and white.

3.5/5

Also did anyone else feel the title made you want to do this?

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A Day in the Life of a ‘Dog’s Body’: Holiday Edition

Chapter Two – A Gateway to Hell, or what I call, the Airport

Walking across the tarmac to the airport entrance is such a depressing site. Hardly a haven to prepare yourself for a fantastic holiday. Just a bunch of miserable looking people awaiting their doom. Well, what do you expect? Delays, technical faults, hidden fees, being shoved in a tin tube for so many hours and queuing.

Queuing. I love it. (I don’t). It has got to be one of the most quintessentially British, uh, things? Yeah, things that define us as a nation. It is just programmed in our nature, even altered in our DNA (Too far? Thought so?). You can play, “Spot the Brit” when you’re abroad. What are the signs? Just one. We’re the only plonkers standing in an organised fashion, while being barged out of the way by the locals. A tut and a dirty look will do nothing here, old sport.

If Ross, my mum and I were to stand in a line right now, people would stand behind us. The funniest thing is that no one would dare to ask. They would just stand and assume it’s for something. I know this because the first thing that happened as we entered, apart from my brother wondering why there were tramps on the floor, was no one knew where to queue so instead of asking someone, they started forming a line.

Oh the tramp thing. People were laying all over the floor. Probably delayed flights. I assured my brother that tramps don’t have suitcases. If they did, I don’t think they would be tramps. Plus tramps don’t have flight tickets . . . or Armani suits. The line thing. Back on track. We had a guide speaking through a broken speaker, telling us where to go. He took his mouth away from the mouthpiece, still couldn’t understand him. Turns out the speaker wasn’t broken, just a strange man speaking in an inaudible tongue. Parseltongue?

Passport control, such fun! Why is it when security guards at passport control look at your passport picture, you automatically try to look like it? Or you smile, hoping that will help. As if a smile will get you anywhere. Well, actually, I have a funny story about a brothel where . . . Another time. But the smiling thing. We have to fear identity fraud. Imagine that.

HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIO

Guard: “This bloke got through with your passport because you had the same smile”.

Me: “What? He’s fat, bald and . . . Nigerian”.

And that little camera, web camera thing. Can’t help but strike a pose. Vogue! Nope, felt wrong typing it but also so right.

While we were waiting in another bloody queue, I noticed one of those virtual assistants. You know, those glass figures with virtual people on them. I stood next to one and busted out my best C-3PO impression. Turns out it wasn’t virtual. That was on the other side of the control desk. I was doing the robot with a rather narked off security guard. Someone’s getting frisked. Guilty! He was just jealous of my moves. Well, that’s what I keep telling myself.

They say (Who are they? The writer folk) the trick to writing is keep writing. Watch people, experience life, blah, blah, blah. Keep a pad. Write things down as they happen. So if you see me writing, be honoured. I might be putting something good. You could be my muse. You should only be freaked out if it’s night and I’m in a bush or outside your house, or both. That would be weird. Not that I’ve done that or considered it. I haven’t. Maybe once. Nope, kidding. Or am I?

Anyway, the airport departure lounge. Great to watch and write about people. In fact, my brother nods over to an attractive lady. Shallow, I know. Well, might as well have a gander. I nod in approval. His face drops. He bursts out laughing. What? Apparently that lovely looking lady is actually a lovely looking lady boy. Oooookkkkaaaayyyy.

Icona Pop comes out blaring on the intercom. I don’t care, I love it. (What? I’ll get my coat). I start tapping my foot. As you do. Then the bass drops, head starts rocking. Standard. I look across to see two unlikely gentlemen; saying it politely because they were two of the most overweight blokes I’ve seen in a while, giving it some serious toe tapping. Deliverance had the infamous banjo battle, I’ve got the toe tapping triple threat tap off. (Try and say that several times). A little bit concerning that one of the first film references I do and keep referring to is Deliverance. Squeal, piggy! These guys could lose serious weight with their toe tapping. New fitness programme. Copyrighting that shit right now. I am so tempted to stage a flash mob with these oldies.

Watching the stunning ladies and the not so stunning, or as my brother calls them, the Jabbas. It’s bad when you look at certain couples and think either the girl is tapped to be so good looking and hanging with that fat guy. Or that guy is either loaded (not the American drugged slang word, the British rich slang one) or he has a huge appendage. Appendage, what a word. I mean, heart. What? Just me? Come on . . . Well, I suppose they have great personalities and . . . . Yeah, moving on.

I complained about paying £3 for a coffee outside the airport. The crying woman who sold it to me (I joke!) said, “Wait until you get inside”. In the Costa Coffee near the Check-in, £4! And in the Duty Free, what a load of shit. £5! I better have a never-ending buzz.  Come into the Duty Free. No tax. BIG CON! They put everything flipping up so they don’t have to worry about tax. Must be a send-off gift from home. One last rip-off before you leave. If you leave us now, we’re take away the biggest part of you. Ooooohhh. Yeah my money. Should be cheaper on the plane. HAHAHA. Give the cabin crew your flight pass, your arm and go on, have a leg as well.

Anyhoo, my brother made a friend. Awww, travel companion. Friend. Flight friend. He ended up feeling guilty by an elderly gentlemen. He was put on some medication that we felt was not needed. More a cure for hypochondria after suffering an “anxiety” attack. Basically went overkill on a gym session, thought his chest was going to explode. That crappy diet. Beans and rice. Probably heartburn. He’s on the same pills as an octogenarian, who really needs them.

He’s like my Mum, not the hypochondriac thing. My mum is always able to strike up a conversation with anyone. Annoyingly, we always get an extra travel companion. In this case, it was an elderly Irish woman. A cross between Mrs Doutbfire and Mrs Brown. I’m not stereotyping, she does! Did you see her? Shut up. I felt sorry for the old dear. Travelling on her own. Meeting her Morris Dancing company abroad, apparently. Mental but good for her. Me, I don’t like people. They’re my family, so kind of have to put up with them. I joke. Don’t like them either. Oh God, they’re on our flight. They’re sitting with us. Super Duper! To the plane!