Title: Spooks:The Greater Good
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Major Players: Peter Firth, Kit Harington, Jennifer Ehle
Out Of Five: 2.5
From a film based on a book that I know all too well (Far From The Madding Crowd) to one inspired by a TV series I never saw. Spooks passed me by when it was on TV– but, with somewhere around 9 million viewers at the time, it probably wasn’t overly worried. Of course, it meant I came to the new big screen version, Spooks:The Greater Good, completely cold – “a clean skin”, as the film’s director Bharat Nalluri described it. An advantage? Or not?
The story goes like this. Terrorist Adem Qasim (Elyes Gabel) escapes from MI5 custody, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) takes the blame and the fall – and then disappears. But Qasim’s escape has brought MI5’s whole operation into question, so former agent Will Holloway (Kit Harington) is brought back to the UK to find out what’s happened to Harry. It turns out he’s gone rogue and Will finds himself having to choose between turning him in or following where he leads ……
I have to confess I did call on the translation services of somebody who’d watched the TV series and was able to gap-fill. It helped. Not that my lack of knowledge of the characters’ back stories prevented me from following the plot. That lands at the scriptwriters’ feet. Admittedly, they’ve not committed the usual sin when a TV series moves to the cinema, that of stretching the story to fit the mandatory 90 minutes or so. But they’ve piled on the double crosses with such head-spinning speed and regularity that they soon become predictable. And the plot certainly creaks under the pressure, with some moments that are simply too far-fetched for words. Watch when Will tracks down Harry at Heathrow.
On the other hand, London looks very much at its best, with some superb shots of The Shard shimmering beautifully and one especially good aerial view of the new Oxford Circus, with X marking the spot – a shot that caused director Nalluri to throw up in an acrobatic helicopter while shooting it. Not that you can tell, of course. Other locations are scattered liberally around the film – Waterloo Bridge, the National Theatre and the like – so you can mug up on your London geography if you find the action isn’t holding your attention as it should.
Nalluri and his crew have clearly decided to make a stand-alone film, one that’s self-contained and that doesn’t follow on from the end of the TV series in 2011. It’s a sensible approach, or it would have been if it hadn’t assumed a certain amount of knowledge on the part of the audience. It helps to know that Harry had a long-term love interest who was killed and whose death is used against him, that the tecchie guy in the cloth cap was a regular from the TV version, that Tim McInnerney is making a return visit as the Director General of MI5 and that the closed circuit cameras and screens were part of the original series’ visual style.
So is it just for the fans? It’s pretty obvious they’ll flock to it, so good box office is as good as a done deal. Those, like me, with no attachment to the show will find it harder to get into. True, the new characters and cast members help with that. Kit Harington’s Will has been thrown out of MI5 in the past, so is about as detached as you can get, and there’s other credible names like David Harewood and Jennifer Ehle. But they’re badly served by the script. You can’t call the words they’re speaking dialogue because that implies they’re talking to each other. Everybody talks at everybody else, there’s no engagement and that means the audience doesn’t especially care about what happens to them.
Given the time it takes to make a feature film, it’s inevitable that this version of Spooks doesn’t have its finger on the pulse of the news agenda in the same way as its predecessor. So we’re given a high level terrorist threat in London, but with the twist that Qasim’s motives are more understandable than you might expect. But if you strip away all the high-tech wizardry, there’s not really that much left underneath, except for an old fashioned spy thriller and a pretty average one at that.
It surely can’t be a coincidence that a film about national security is being released on the day when the outcome of the General Election is declared. I’m not sure about it being light relief after all that campaigning, although fans of the TV series will probably disagree. But if you don’t guess who the MI5 mole is by around the half way mark – there had to be one, didn’t there? – I’ll be very surprised. Spooked, even.
Spooks:The Greater Good is released in cinemas on Friday, 8 May.