REVIEW: British spy thriller ‘Slow Horses’ gets pulses racing

REVIEW: British spy thriller ‘Slow Horses’ gets pulses racing
“Slough House” is on Apple TV+. (Supplied)
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Updated 22 April 2022

REVIEW: British spy thriller ‘Slow Horses’ gets pulses racing

REVIEW: British spy thriller ‘Slow Horses’ gets pulses racing
  • Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas lead impressive ensemble cast in show based on Mick Herron’s book

AMMAN: Fans of spy novels may already be familiar with Mick Herron’s excellent “Slough House” series about a group of British Secret Service outcasts exiled to a tiny, filthy office away from the real action of ‘The Park’ (MI5 HQ in the show). Happily Apple TV+’s adaptation has managed to transfer both the pace and dark humor of Herron’s writing from page to screen.

The ostensible ‘hero’ of the story is River Cartwright (Jack Lowden), unfairly transferred to Slough House (the show’s title refers to the disparaging nickname given to those unfortunate enough to work there) after being wrongly accused of spectacularly messing up a training exercise.

Kristin Scott Thomas and Paul Higgins. (Supplied)

Once there, he reports to Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) — an apparently burned-out spook whose glory days were some time in the 1970s or 80s, an era from which he draws his swear-heavy approach to HR and management. Lamb delights in tormenting his hapless charges, giving them seemingly pointless and repetitive tasks to perform until their spirits are broken.

Lamb is, of course, not all he appears. We gradually learn that he’s a lot sharper than his slovenly appearance and love of farting make him seem. In fact, he proves to be at least the equal of MI5’s head of operations, the scheming, ambitious Diana Taverner (played with crystalline cool by Kristin Scott Thomas).

Rosalind Eleazar and Dustin Demri-Burns. (Supplied)

Taverner, it transpires, has instigated a dangerous scheme involving white-pride group Sons of Albion that she hopes will boost the budget, profile and support of MI5’s counter-terrorism operations. And the team of losers at Slough House are her expendable pawns.

Oldman and Scott Thomas are terrific together (and separately) — trading barbs and threats and revelling in it. Lowden is well cast as the gifted-but-politically-naïve River. The rest of the ensemble (in the four episodes aired at the time of writing) are not as well-developed yet; the showrunners have struggled to flesh out characters who, in Herron’s books, are brought to life quicker because the reader is allowed access to their inner monologues — a trick that doesn’t really work in TV shows.

Still, “Slow Horses” is a lot of fun — fast-moving, funny, and surprising. There are several books in Herron’s series and, on this evidence, it would be worth adapting more of them.