Legacy, BBC2, Charlie Cox, Andrew Scott, Simon Russell Beale, Romola Garai PREVIEW

Charlie Cox as Charles Thoroughgood in BBC2's Legacy
Shot in the dark? Charlie Cox as the novice MI6 agent. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★½

BBC: Thursday, 28 November, 9pm

Story: Against the backdrop of 1974’s industrial strife, British MI6 officer Charles Thoroughgood is tasked with turning his old friend from Oxford, Viktor Koslov, into a double agent…

TV JUST CAN’T STOP snooping on the world of spies, or at least what we imagine that world is like with its betrayals, ruthlessness and races against the clock.

We’ve had 2012’s BBC series Hunted, which tried to fill the slot left by Spooks. Earlier this year saw Spies of Warsaw, another BBC drama with David Tennant, and of course The Americans has recently finished on ITV, while Homeland soldiers on over at Channel 4.

Charlie Cox, Romola Garai and Andrew Scott as Charles, Anna and Viktor in BBC2's Legacy
Charlie Cox, Romola Garai and Andrew Scott

How does Legacy measure up to the flashy thrill-fests such as Hunted or Homeland? It is more Len Deighton/John Le Carré in its dowdiness than those series, being based on a novel by British writer Alan Judd.

Charlie Cox as the MI6 trainee

A 90-minute one-off, Legacy is set in a more primitive era of spycraft, the early 1970s, a time before GCHQ could spy on all of us with ease. This period was so primitive that the lights keep going out, owing to the three-day week. There is unease in intelligence circles that the industrial chaos is being sponsored by the Soviets.

Simon Russell Beale as Hookey in BBC2's Legacy
Simon Russell Beale as the manipulative Hookey

It has a good cast, with Charlie Cox taking the lead as Charles Thoroughgood, an MI6 trainee who is asked by his boss, Hookey – a manipulative, intimidating Simon Russell Beale – to renew his friendship with a Russian he knew at Oxford. Andrew Scott swaps his Irish accent for Russian as Viktor, whom Charles has to turn into a double agent.

Romola Garai is Anna, the beautiful wife of jaded Hugo, to whom Charles is seriously attracted. After Charles ‘bumps into’ Viktor again, the game is afoot, but there is a shock for the British agent when Viktor gives him some dismaying news about Charles’s recently deceased father.

1974’s industrial strife as a cover for concerted attacks on Britain 

Romola Garai and Charlie Cox in BBC2's Legacy
Close encounter – Anna and Charles

Betrayal – personal and against one’s country – and truth are the themes, and it is a fairly absorbing drama, adapted by award-winning Paula Milne. The period is conveyed well, without clobbering the audience with lots of 70s kitschiness. And there is a nice bit of subterfuge in a Suffolk hotel carried out under cover of the power cuts.

The personal turmoil is counterpoised with a thought-provoking plot involving Russia attempting to use the industrial strife of 1974 as a launchpad for strikes against Britain’s infrastructure.

While Legacy slots in well with a programming season on the Beeb about the Cold War, it is limited by its 90-minute format, skimming over interesting themes and ending a little abruptly on a twist that is neat but not clearly explained.

Cast: Charlie Cox Charles Thoroughgood, Andrew Scott Viktor Koslov, Simon Russell Beale Hookey, Romola Garai Anna, Christian McKay Hugo March, Olivia Grant Eva, Tessa Peake-Jones Joyce, Geraldine James Martha

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