‘The Recruit’ (Season 1)

In his first week in the legal department of the CIA, Owen Hendricks finds himself increasingly involved in dangerous international power politics that threaten the lives of all Eastern European agents and their contacts.

A routine task for the newest recruit – checking the veracity of mailed threats to the agency – results in Hendricks (Noah Centineo) dispatched to Phoenix and a women’s prison to assess former Russian asset Max Meladz’s (Laura Haddock) threats to divulge CIA secrets to the public. Hendricks believes its real and finds himself representing her back at Langley to convince Walter Nyland (Vondie Curtis-Hall) his department chief.

It’s the beginning of a thrilling cat and mouse espionage thriller as the seasoned Max looks to return home after several years in the US – but she needs millions of dollars as payment to buy her way back into the game. She needs help: the CIA all the way up to the White House have to determine whether that help is forthcoming and whether Max would be a reliable asset. But for a start they need to get her out of prison, sentenced as she is for murder.

The Recruit is high stake thrills from Doug Limon, director/producer of the Jason Bourne saga, but which also sees the Washington house-sharing domesticity of Hendricks and the backstory of Max’s arrival in the States. Arrogant but naive, the new recruit makes mistakes, both at home and at work, but his strut carries the day – and the manipulative Max trusts him. So much so, more experienced and calculating operatives – particularly take-no-prisoners Angel Parker (Dawn Gilbane) with her own agenda – are releuctantly forced to work with him.

It’s a charismatic, well-paced if flawed eight episode ride with that balance of thrills and domesticity. Hendricks obviously still has feelings for housemate and ex-girlfriend, Hannah (Fivel Stewart) and she, along with third housemate, Terence (Daniel Quincy Annoh), are innocently drawn into the world of secrets. But there’s no innocence about assassin gone rogue Max as the action flips from US soil to Europe.

Rating: 68%

‘A Most Wanted Man’

Based on John le Carré’s novel and set in Hamburg post 9/11, A Most Wanted Man is a superior anti-terrorism spy thriller as different agencies take an interest in an illegal Chechen Muslim migrant.

With new anti-terrorist agencies competing against traditional policing methods, head of unit Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman – Capote, Moneyball) needs to keep one step ahead, made the more urgent by the presence of a distrustful CIA agent, Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright – Wonder Woman, Moneyball). When Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin – Black Sea, Our Kind of Traitor), believed to be involved in some way in the laundering of money supporting terrorism, appears in Hamburg, all interested parties are placed on high alert.

The last serious film role before his untimely death, Hoffman gives a superbly subtle lead performance as he manipulates and cajoles behind the scenes, desperate to ensure Karpov’s safety in order to follow the money. With human rights lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams – Sherlock Holmes, Disobedience) in tow, an intricate jigsaw of a narrative unspools from director Anton Corbijn (Control, The American) – albeit a strangely cold, unemotional unspooling.

Rating: 68%

‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ by John le Carré

A modern classic and arguably John le Carré’s best, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy continues following the up and down career of George Smiley with the first in the trilogy featuring Karla, his Soviet counterpart.

le Carré’s expertise in the world of espionage creates a vivid insight into the machinations of the secret service, the at times painstakingly slow, chess-like moves that eventually (and hopefully) illicit responses and results. Smiley’s earlier fall from grace and enforced retirement owing to the death of Control and the ‘changing of the guard’ at the Circus would seemingly see the end of Smiley. But living up to the concept of the spy who came in from the cold, he is asked to return and help identify the mole within British intelligence. One thing is certain – whoever it is was planted by Moscow many years earlier and is a high ranking member of the service and a contemporary of Smiley.

With the young Peter Guillam assigned to support him, Smiley sifts and sorts, watches and questions, revisiting events that led to agent Jim Prideaux’s cover being blown just outside Prague that led to the revelation there was a mole at work.

It’s a very British scandal, riddled with complexities, rainy nights and old boy networks. What it’s not is a narrative of high volume confrontations and shoot outs. There’s a great deal at stake and the mole needs to be exposed and destroyed – but it can be done in a respectful, civilised way with plenty of tea poured and nervous conversations had about futures and the need to keep a lid on the level of exposure.

‘Operation Mincemeat’

First-class in terms of cast and production values, the World War II based-on-true-events Operation Mincemeat is, however, somewhat dull.

With the invasion of Sicily the only foreseeable option for the Allies, the Germans need to be convinced plans are through Greece and focus its defences in the eastern Mediterranean. An audacious plan to use a corpse and false papers, washed up on the shores of a neutral Spain, is meticulously plotted to outwit German spies. Headed by Lt Commander Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth – A Single Man, Empire of Light), a small team creates a traceable personality for their corpse – and hope the plan works.

The ticking of Admiralty clocks in basement offices, the ticker tape messages, the phone cutting through tense silences – we’ve seen it all before. In-house petty jealousies are mirrored by the interest shown by (the married) Montagu and his number two Cholmondley (Matthew Macfadyen – TV’s Spooks, Succession) in colleague, Kelly Macdonald (T2 Trainspotting, I Came By), which adds frisson to the story. But with Cholmondley continuing to live at home with mummy and internal Admiralty politics, even the brief foray to Spain to follow the documents fails to enliven proceedings. Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel).

Rating: 57%

‘The Courier’

Greville, we are only two people. But this is how things change.

A truth-is-stranger-than-fiction espionage thriller, an ordinary English businessman, Greville Wynn (Benedict Cumberbatch – The Power of the Dog, The Imitation Game), finds himself involved in Cold War politics in the lead up to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

With nuclear secrets couriered out of Moscow under the auspices of trade delegations, Wynn and Soviet official Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze – Bumazhnyy soldat, Delo) build trust and a close friendship, only too aware of the risks they are running. Time away from home comes at a price to family, with Sheila Wynn (Jesse Buckley – The Lost Daughter, Judy) convinced her husband is involved in an affair.

Considering the stakes, The Courier is gloriously mundane with only the occasional glimpse of MI6 or the CIA ‘in action’ as American handler Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan – Patriots Day, TV’s The Marvellous Mrs Maisel) finds her cover blown. Director Dominic Cooke (On Chesil Beach, TV’s The Hollow Crown) creates, within a tonally muted palette, a character-focussed tension of a thriller.

Rating: 69%


With Sam Mendes (Skyfall, 1917) returning to direct, Spectre is a more action-driven James Bond spectacle of old (the opening scene alone is quite extraordinary) than Skyfall. But it tries to pack too much into its bombastic narrative confusion of 150 minutes, resulting in the least successful of Daniel Craig’s four Bond films to date.

New blood in the British Secret Service with a new M (Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s List, Harry Potter) less accommodating with 007’s maverick decision-making. Bond is suspended following an unauthorised mission to prevent that opening bomb attack in Mexico City. Having discovered the global organisation Spectre is behind the bombing attempt and linked to Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene and Raoul Silva from the previous three Bond films, Craig naturally ignores his suspension and heads to Rome to confront Spectre and their reclusive leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz – The Legend of Tarzan, Inglourious Basterds). Back in London, M has his own battles with the threat of privatisation.

It remains an enjoyable, OTT Bond experience but there’s an inbalance to the whole that leaves behind an unsatisfied taste.

Winner of the 2016 Oscar for best song (Sam Smith – Writing on the Wall).

Rating: 54%

‘Tinker, Tailor, Sailor, Spy’

Archetypal John Le Carre procedural espionage tale as the identity of a high-ranking mole in the British Secret Service needs to be flushed out.

A who’s who of British male thesps clutter MI6 offices as retired George Smiley (Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour, The Dark Knight) is tasked with tracking the agent down, aided and abetted by Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch – Doctor Strange, The Power of the Dog), a man who has his own secrets. Helped or hindered, the suspicious death of Control (John Hurt – Alien, The Elephant Man) increases the urgency of cleaning up the East European desk.

Early 1970s Cold War politics, a bungled operation in Budapest that saw Mark Strong (1917, Kingsman) shot – leaving Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds and David Dencik on Smiley’s radar. A painstaking, dour investigation is put into action, resulting in an enthralling, wordy spy thriller directed by Tomas Alfredson (The Snowman, Let the Right One In).

Nominated for 3 Oscars in 2012 – best actor (Oldman), adapted screenplay, music score.

Rating: 74%

‘Quantum of Solace’

Outing number two for Daniel Craig as 007, an agent and a man seemingly out for revenge – much to the concern of M (Judi Dench – Philomena, Red Joan).

Following the death of Vespa in Casino Royale, a murderous Bond is seemingly out of control. Her death is certainly linked to a global organisation unknown to the secret services with Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric – Munich, The Grand Budapest Hotel) its public face. As Bond travels the globe following Greene’s trail in an attempt to discover exactly what they’re up to, so the body count rises in a thrilling ride – accompanied by Olga Kurylenko (Black Widow, Seven Psychopaths), an ally worth having.

It may be less subtle, more bombastic than its predecessor, but Quantum of Solace is, as to be expected, a fast-paced, high-octane thrill from director Marc Foster (The Kite Runner, World War Z).

Rating: 64%

‘The Catcher Was a Spy’

Paul Rudd (Ant-Man, The Fundamentals of Caring) in a less irreverent, more dramatic role than usual as he takes on Moe Berg, a former Major League Baseball player who goes undercover in World War II Europe.

Based on true events, Berg, an enigma in life who lived in the shadows due to his hidden sexuality, is sent on a mission to assassinate physicist Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong – 1917, Syriana), head of the Nazi nuclear program. A man of many languages, Berg is to attend a conference in Zurich.

A low-key espionage thriller from director Ben Lewin (The Sessions, Please Stand By) with a strong supporting cast (Tom Wilkinson, Sienna Miller, Paul Giametti, Jeff Daniels et al), The Catcher Was a Spy is unchallenging and somewhat lifeless in spite of the best intentions from the ever likeable Rudd. The film passes the time but offers little else.

Rating: 56%


A cerebral, high energy thriller is expectation in the films of Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight). And Tenet is no different.

Evolving outside real time and the collision of inverted events and mirror images, the Protagonist, John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman, The Old Man & the Gun) is tasked with saving the world – past, future and present. It’s the deranged and manipulative Kenneth Branagh (Dunkirk, Hamlet) who has the wherewithal and determination to do it as action shifts from London to Italy to Norway to Estonia – backwards and forwards.

With more than a litle help from the likes of Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki, Washington navigates the bold confusion and the palindrome that is Tenet‘s mix of old-fashioned thrills and baffling narratives. It’s never short of thrills and spills, but its cleverness may leave you a little perplexed at times.

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 2021 including productiond design, won 1 for visual effects.

Rating: 69%