A Spy Among Friends (TV)

– ITV’s cerebral and utterly engaging spy thriller is an absolute treat; an intellectual, highly charged and sometimes profound examination of friendship and mixed loyalties. It’s so refreshing to watch a series that credits the viewer with the nous to fill in blanks and read between the lines. Anna Maxwell Martin is perfectly cast as a surly, abrasive interrogator trying to extract the truth from professional liars after senior British intelligence officer, the infamous double agent Kim Philby, defects to Russia. Embodying Philby, Guy Pearce toes the line between ebullient and desperate with skill, larger than life charm one moment and soul searching from inside of a bottle the next. But the bulk of the story falls to Damian Lewis, and he is a master at work. From Life to Homeland to Our Kind of Traitor and now this, Lewis has a penchant for these spy roles and it’s evident why – he excels in them. Aside from his natural charisma, in the best possible way, there’s something vaguely duplicitous about him, as though every line or action is calculated and there’s always an ulterior motive at play. It’s a joy to watch. If there’s any scope for criticism, it’s that the national and international stakes aren’t as clear as they might be, such that, albeit endlessly intriguing, it lacks genuine jeopardy or peril, and the framing of it as a spy game, nothing more than a battle of sharp wits, seems fairer than perhaps it should.

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