Spooks (or MI-5 as it was known in America) remained one of my favourite television shows throughout its ten year run on the BBC. Its dramatic plots, strong acting and the knowledge that no character was guaranteed to survive (who can forget poor Lisa Faulkener’s Helen in only episode 2?!) meant that Spooks became revolutionary television when it arrived in 2002 and I was rather sad when it ended in 2011. After rumours of a film, it was fantastic to see that it was returning via the big screen and I finally managed to see The Greater Good this month. Was it any good? Could it live up to the series? Could it spark a series of films?
Overall it’s an enjoyable action thriller, but it still felt as if it was an extended episode of the television show, simply on a bigger screen. This is a testament to the strength of the original show, which always had the level of quality that made it television at the top of its game. However, I’m less confident The Greater Good is strong enough to compete with big action / spy film franchises.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a decent film, but it didn’t impress me in the same way some episodes of the series used to. Due to the revolving door nature of the characters in Spooks, which saw so many brilliant young actors come and go including Matthew Macfadyen, Rupert Penry-Jones, Richard Armitage, David Oyelowo and Keeley Hawes, the film could only ever revolve around Harry Pearce (Peter Firth), head of MI5 and the only original cast member still standing.
When a crucial CIA prisoner Adam Qasim (Elyes Gabel) escapes on Harry’s watch, blame falls on the Service and questions swirl as to whether it has outlived its use and importance and Harry’s sudden disappearance raises all manner of questions amongst the higher levels of power – is he dead? has he been turned? where is he if he is alive? Finding Harry becomes the key to finding the terrorist and understanding what bigger terrorist plans are being formulated. The task of finding him falls on decommissioned MI5 agent Will Holloway (Kit Harington), who has a personal connection to Harry, of which MI5 is all too aware and when Harry reaches out to Will, those in charge take the opportunity to use Will to their advantage, despite his reluctance (he still blames Harry for ending his MI5 career).
There is a strong cast of British actors in this film, in which Jennifer Ehle, David Harewood and Tim McInnerny (reprising his role from the series) are convincing government figures, playing their manipulative games for what they perceive to be the greater good. There are also some great performances from younger actors – I particularly liked Eleanor Matsuura’s Hannah Santo, who would have been a great addition to the series as a regular were it still on. However, the film has to focus on Harry and Will, which is both a strength and a weakness. Peter Firth is on excellent form as usual as Harry, a character we all grew to care about, after seeing him endure so much over the course of the series. I certainly don’t envy his job! He’s a brilliant actor and is able to convey so much even when saying very little and it’s great to see him out in the field. Nothing is more important to him than protecting the integrity of the Service, regardless of the consequences for himself.
As for Will, he is an interesting character and Kit Harington plays him well. However, had this been the series, he would have had weeks to develop, as the audience grew to know his character, backstory and grow to like him. Without that scope the character has to be fully formed immediately and I think at times this wasn’t achieved, which left the character seeming quite weak sometimes. However, I did enjoy the aspects of the film that focus on his and Harry’s paternal relationship and again this would have been more effective unfolding over a series.
Spooks’ strength on television was that it didn’t need to be showy like a big spy film franchise – it was intelligent and gripping and often frighteningly in line with current events. There are some exciting sequences in this film and some tense stand offs (the lovely National Theatre gets a supporting role here!), in which you know anyone could die, but I still felt it was lacking that extra sparkle for a film. I’ve seen references to Bond/Bourne-lite in other reviews and I can understand what people mean by that. As Spooks seems unlikely to return to the small screen, this film needed to be strong enough to revitalise the world for a film franchise, by attracting more than just loyal fans of the series. As much as it saddens me to say so, I think that’s unlikely to have happened, meaning we may never get a sequel. Maybe we should all start petitioning for a return to television instead – as, despite being a decent movie, The Greater Good only seemed to highlight just how strong the series that inspired it was. Come on KUDOS / BBC – you know it’s the sensible choice! Bring back Harry and his team…..please!
Spooks: The Greater Good is still running in select cinemas throughout the UK. Watch the trailer here. Spooks series 1-10 is also available on Netflix, for the uninitiated or those looking to relive all of its twists and turns!