If you screwed up in your job, what’s the worst that could happen? Not badly enough to get fired, mind you, but just enough that management would want you out of sight, out of mind? What grimy paper-pushing back office could you be subjected to? This adaptation of Mick Herron’s novel answers these hypotheticals with the sleek, high-octane professional environment of MI5.
Promising but swiftly disgraced agent River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) finds himself at MI5’s Slough House, aptly named for the pace of its running and the middle-of-nowhere town that is its namesake. After the shiny training at Regent’s Park, where the top tier spies work, it’s a gear shift to be sifting through a journalist’s rubbish in a musty office block. His boss goes from the formidable girlbossery of the sleek Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas) to foul-mouthed alcoholic chain-smoker Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) who insists on reminding him of his failure. They are meant to be on the same side, but the antagonism between them exposes a playground of moral grey area that is delightfully flawed and intriguing.
Even at the bottom of the barrel in espionage have their moments, as the rag-tag bunch of screw-ups gradually find themselves whisked into a conspiracy with a chance to prove themselves, or dig themselves deeper into the unglamorous 9-5 office life they lead. Cast by Nina Gold, even the most unassuming Slough House workers have their secrets, from Sid Baker (indie darling Olivia Cooke) to Louisa Guy (David Copperfield’s Rosalind Eleazar) and my personal favourite, the unassuming Standish (Saskia Reeves).
Haunted by stupidity and trauma, the ensemble of Slow Horses maintains a brilliant balancing act of serious and silly, without losing the adrenaline of an increasingly tense chase. I hate to admit it, as someone who truly believes he shouldn’t be working, but this does remind me why Gary Oldman holds the Oscar nominations/wins that he does. Crotchety Old-Man makes his points and at the helm, his grumpy demeanour and festering secrecy form a great foundation for the show. Likewise, Lowden’s River, a privileged grandaddy’s boy who could be irritating, makes his mark with an earnest sense of justice, lots of Mission: Impossible-esque running sequences and some sick, if sometimes misguided martial arts moves.
There’s a sense of human chaos, with the contrast of Regent’s Park and Slough House showing different sides of central London. As funny in its mundanity as it gets, the charm of these characters will sneak up on you without you noticing, like every spy worth their salt should be able to. Daniel Pemberton’s score is not as energetic as his other work, but goes for a slightly more subtle espionage soundtrack, echoing through an appropriately dark and dingy landscape. With a weekly drop coming up on Apple TV+, anyone tuning in will enjoy a deceptively unassuming but entertaining ride ahead.
Slow Horses premieres on Apple TV+ on April 4
by Fatima Sheriff
Fatima (she/her) is a biomedical sciences graduate and aspiring science communicator. Literary adaptations with beautiful soundtracks call to her, but she enjoys anything with an original concept, witty writing, diverse casting or even the briefest appearance of Dan Stevens. Her favourite films do fluctuate but her love for Paddington 2 is perennial. She can be found on Letterboxd @sherifff and on Twitter here.