The Secret Agent, BBC1

Programme Name: The Secret Agent - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Verloc (Toby Jones), Vladimir (David Dawson) - (C) World Productions LTD - Photographer: Mark Mainz

Twisted loyalties – Verloc (Toby Jones) and Vladimir (David Dawson)

Claustrophobic adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s heartbreaking spy saga

★★★ BBC1, Sunday, 17 July, 9pm

COSTUME DRAMAS are two a penny on British TV, but occasionally one comes along that really has a feel for period, rather than being a piece of fancy-dress nostalgia. This is one of the better ones.

It is, of course, based on Joseph Conrad’s classic spy novel, which Alfred Hitchcock also turned into a modern-day suspense flick.

For this three-parter, the BBC has lined up a fine cast and returned events to era of the novel – London, 1886.

Toby Jones as Verloc

Programme Name: The Secret Agent - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Winnie (Vicky McClure), Stevie (Charlie Hamblett) - (C) World Productions LTD - Photographer: Graeme Hunter

Family – Winnie (Vicky McClure), Stevie (Charlie Hamblett)

Taking the lead is Toby Jones as the horrible Verloc, owner of a seedy Soho smut shop. He is married to Winnie, played by Vicky McClure. Verloc is a second-rate agent-provocateur on behalf of the Russian government. When he is summoned to meet the new First Secretary, his cushy number is over.

Played with a mixture of evil and charm by David Dawson, Vladimir demands more of Verloc. He blackmails him into organising a bomb outrage that will be blamed on the anarchists Verloc is spying on.

Victorian London is evocatively recreated and filmed (without cloying chocolate-box tweeness), and the performers are extremely good. But it is the dynamics between the characters and the claustrophobia of unfolding events that makes the drama so gripping. [Read more…]

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