Low-key high stakes

Published date12 December 2023
Publication titleSignal
IF you don’t know the sort of spy series that Slow Horses is by now, then the Bond-esque chase sequence through the streets of Istanbul that kicks off season three should set you straight. A woman is on her way to leak a mysterious, potentially world-changing secret document, pursued by an athletic man who is also her lover. It begins on foot then takes to the water, and it’s all high-end, big-budget excitement. And when they get into cars to drive through squeakily narrow streets, they do so not in classic sports cars or on sexy motorbikes, but in a sensible silver estate and a mucky little hatchback

Slow Horses is all about the grubby glamour. After the fireworks of last season, we rejoin the least essential members of MI5 at Slough House, who all find themselves in various states of tedium. River (Jack Lowden), who really cannot catch a break, has returned to the drudgery of filing boxes stuffed with what is probably extremely insignificant paperwork, while Standish (Saskia Reeves) can only look on and tell him to stop moaning about it. Shirley and Louisa are (separately) trying to get drunk and hook up with random strangers; Ho and Marcus are doing their best to get in their way; and Kristin Scott Thomas does top-notch haughty, almost drolling herself into an early grave with world-weary lines like: ‘‘Just point me to the nearest exit.’’

And then there’s Lamb (Gary Oldman), who we meet again as a farting, sleeping spectacle in the waiting room of an elite private doctor, where he offends the posh people around him with his general aura and stench. This is the Slow Horses way: the hero is a kebab-loving, chain-smoking, drunken slob who claims to be terrible at his job but is actually embarrassingly competent. Lamb is attending his compulsory service medical check, which leads to many delightful exchanges with his doctor about his drinking, smoking and exercise habits. ‘‘I’m a f ... ... titan,’’ Lamb decides.

It doesn’t take long before all these aimless spies find themselves in need of a thrilling, dramatic, spy-worthy problem to solve, and the long fallout from that mysterious chase around Istanbul seems as good a place as any to start. If the first episode gets most of its mileage out of jokes about...

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