TV Review: Slow Horses (Series 1)

I finally get round to Series 1 of Slow Horses and it really is very good, isn’t it

“What kind of spy are you?”

Based on Mick Herron’s Slough House series of novels, Slow Horses has quietly been building a solid reputation on Apple TV+ (still a surprisingly undersung home for prestige TV shows, obvs because of its limited membership base). And as it has managed to gather a lead cast of Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Jack Lowden, with the likes of Sophie Okonedo, Sam West and Jonathan Pryce in supporting roles, you can see the kind of quality we’re talking about.

This first series does a great job at setting the scene for the Slow Horses universe. The name is a riff on Slough House, an outsourced MI5 department to where agents who have screwed up not quite enough to be fired get exiled to do admin. Heading them up is chief misfit Jackson Lamb (Oldman) who is rude and unkempt but still sharp as a tack under the surface, something desperately needed as the team find themselves swept up in a major case.

The first episode opens with a cracker of a sequence, as Lowden’s green agent River Cartrwright balls up the capture of a suspected terrorist bomber at Stansted Airport. All is not quite what it seems though, and blame might be deserved elsewhere but Kristin Scott Thomas’ icy Diana Taverner, MI5’s Deputy Director General, calls for his departure to Slough House where he grudgingly meets his new colleagues and desperately hopes this isn’t it for him.

Writer Will Smith and director James Hawes capture a brilliant sense of the grinding reality of spy work, especially at this less shiny end of the business, and it helps that the casting really is superb. Saskia Reeves, Rosalind Eleazar, Dustin Demri-Burnsm Christopher Chung and Paul Higgins all bring their own strengths to their individual slow horses, and fellow new arrival Olivia Cooke’s Sid brings a little different energy to mix things up.

The case that they end up involved in is entertaining too, a far-right conspiracy proving to be far more multi-layered than anyone could have conceived, mixed in with all sorts of personal histories still playing out their consequences now to test loyalties across the board. It’s very much the type of drama that used to be on BBC1 at 9pm on a Sunday night and for me, that’s high praise indeed.

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