Slow Horses: Gary Oldman Spy Thriller Deserves to Be as Big as Line of Duty
Written by on January 23, 2023
This premise is a big part of what makes Slow Horses such a stand-out drama. Thrillers about spies are nothing new, but we tend to expect them to be on the James Bond spectrum of suaveness – not real, fallible humans having a crisis of confidence after messing up at work.
It’s refreshing, as is Slow Horses’ sense of humour which, while often self-aware like Bond, is also much more down-to-earth and relatable. Jackson Lamb is full of pithy one-liners, his frequent put-downs are almost Delboy-esque (‘Of course you didn’t mean to kill him, if you did he’d still be alive!’), but he takes them as good-heartedly as he dishes them out, with one particularly laugh-out-loud highlight when Cartwright disdainfully tells him ‘You eat like a dying horse.’ There’s also plenty of comedy from Slough House’s petulant-but-gifted tech genius Roddy Ho (Waterloo Road’s Christopher Chung) who you want to slap but also can’t help rooting for.
The humour is much-needed to break up the considerable tension of the plot, which cleverly twists and turns – sometimes with a ferocity that almost makes it hard to keep up. The writing though (from Veep and The Thick of It’s Will Smith, plus Morwenna Banks, Mark Denton and Johnny Stockwood) is smart enough to keep you guessing while also providing satisfying conclusions.
In Series One, the team are embroiled in a kidnapping plot by white supremacist terrorists, a story which barrels along brutally to the point you’re almost scared to look at the screen. Then in the equally brilliant Series Two, a former agent turns up dead in odd circumstances, leading the team on the trail of reactivated Russian sleeper agents, with a risk-to-the-public element that sometimes gives it gripping disaster movie vibes.
Throughout, the team are reluctantly steered by the real MI5, headed by the shrewd, sophisticated Diana Taverner (Kristen Scott Thomas) and often disrupted by the slick, smarmy Spider Webb, Cartwright’s former colleague and unofficial nemesis, played by White House Farm’s Freddie Fox with just enough of a hint of vulnerability to make him interesting instead of a straight-up dickhead.
Yes, Slow Horses edges on the ridiculous, even far-fetched at times, but spy thrillers demand suspension of disbelief. Let’s face it, realism in this context would involve what – paperwork?