The Game, BBC2, Tom Hughes, Brian Cox PREVIEW

Tom Hughes and the cast of The Game BBC2
Watch your back – Tom Hughes and the cast of The Game. Pics: BBC


• Espionage thriller with action, sex appeal and a lot of beige 1970s decor. It’s to die for…


BBC2, Thursday, 30 April, 9pm

WE LOVE a good spy yarn. Everything from Bond to Le Carre, all those betrayals and secrets have made for some great film and TV series.

In recent years we’ve had the movie of Tinker Tailor, TV’s Spooks (MI-5 in the US), Foyle’s War, Spies of Warsaw, Homeland and The Americans. So, in this league is The Game an asset or a discard (intelligence slang for an agent to be sacrificed for a more valuable one).

Going by the look of it, The Game is standard spy fare. It’s set in 1972, begins with a double-cross in Poland and is full of uptight, tight-lipped British men in raincoats. So far, so Le Carre.

Tom Hughes and Victoria Hamilton

Victoria Hamilton as Sarah Montag in The Game BBC2
Victoria Hamilton as Sarah Montag

But while it all feels familiar, The Game soon grips. It is a cracking tale of a massive Soviet

conspiracy against Britain, set at the time of the first miner’s strike, which seriously disrupted the country. It has some ripe characters in it, from slippery eel Waterhouse (delicious performance by Paul Ritter) to the talented woman among the male egos, Sarah Montag (Victoria Hamilton), and the charismatic and dark Joe Lambe (Tom Hughes). 

It convincingly gets across the mood and paranoia of that crisis period in Britain, played out to a cool

Tom Hughes as Joe Lambe in The Game BBC2
Was Joe betraying MI-5 in Poland?

jazzy soundtrack. But where it really succeeds is in quickly delineating the contrasting players in MI-5, with their rivalries, ambitions and quirks (Waterhouse has a very strange/toxic relationship with his mother, for instance).

Victoria Hamilton is icy as the woman intelligence schemer jostling among the guys, while Tom Hughes is a fine combination of smouldering hero and nasty sod. It also has nice moments of wry irony, such as Special Branch man Fenchurch (Shaun Dooley) moaning to Lambe about the spooks all calling the MI-5 chief ‘Daddy’ (played by Brian Cox) – ‘Why is he called Daddy? It’s childish. What’s his real name?’

Doctor Who writer

It was created by Toby Whithouse, who’s had a hand in Being Human and Doctor Who in the past, and he whips up a highly charged thriller here.

Perhaps the biggest mystery about it is why the Beeb hasn’t shown it yet. It went out on BBC America last year, while the project was announced back in 2013 and the media can view it for preview now.

I’ve only seen episode one, but if it maintains it dark mood and tension for the remaining five parts then it should be appointment TV.

For a flavour of it, check out BBC America, which has info on the story and characters, along with photo galleries.

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