Slow Horses

Fave viewing over the past few years has been SLOW HORSES on AppleTV+. A spy show with all the intrigues of a John le Carré novel, but if George Smiley was written as a sarcastic smart arse and every other spy was a downbeat comedian. 

River Cartwright & Hobbs
River Cartwright chased by one of ’The Dogs’.

The show focusses on spies who’ve disgraced themselves, but for various political reasons cannot be simply fired. We are led into this espionage backwater by an earnest young agent who has become persona non grata with Mi5. His efforts to get back into the slick world of Regent’s Park puts him at the heart of the action in the series. Though he’s from Mi5 royalty (as his grandfather used to head the organisation) he’s banished to a shabby facility called Slough House

Jackson Lamb & Diana Taverner
Lamb uses his signature flatulent power-move on Taverner. 

This kingdom of losers is ruled by Jackson Lamb, hilariously played by Gary Oldman. Famed for being a chameleon, Oldman is clearly having enormous fun here, playing this jaded old cold warrior, who doesn’t care any more. Lamb has let himself go physically, but is still mentally sharp enough to anticipate when he’s being setup. Which is often, and most likely by his Mi5 boss Diana Taverner (played with deadpan ice queen flair by Kristin Scott Thomas). Her disdain for the screwups of Slough House doesn’t stop her from using their services. These ‘Slow Horses’ are ostensibly kept on by ‘the service’ for menial jobs – filing and desk work – but they are sometimes caught up in intrigues too. Simply because Mi5 often needs fall guys.

Shirley Dander & Marcus Longridge
Shirley & Marcus pinned down by The Tiger Team.

Mi5 is portrayed as a world of grasping political climbers. The higher up the political totem pole, the more damehoods & knighthoods there are. But ruthless sociopaths abound too. More than willing to sacrifice their underlings if it advances their own interests, or covers up a blunder. The traditional baddies of spy stories are here, but rather than the Russians or international terrorists, domestic political dirty dealing is responsible for most of the body count.

Min Harper & Louisa Guy
Min & Louisa surprise an intruder at Slough House.

For all their flaws, the Slow Horses have more decency than the ‘winners’. They are prickly & snarky characters, that are nevertheless likeable. A fave of mine is Roddy Ho, Slough House’s IT expert. His hilariously pompous dialog is brilliantly played to the smugly annoying hilt by Christopher Chung. Pint-sized firecracker Shirley Dander (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) her gun-handy office-mate Marcus Longridge (Kadiff Kirwan) and wily old school operative Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves) are a couple of other faves, but honestly, all the characters have their moments. 

Catherine Standish & Roddy Ho
Roddy analyses the kidnap photo of Standish. 

The show-runner is standup comedian & writer Will Smith, who manages to deliver laughs aplenty but also real drama. Main characters can die, and probably when you’d just learned to love them. We enjoyed watching this show so much that, after finishing the 3rd season, we RE-watched the entire thing, and were entertained even more the 2nd time. 

Jackson Lamb has an ice-cream
Jackson Lamb has an ice cream.

Having just exhausted all the viewing options available, Julia & I just began the book series that the show is based on, by Mick Herron. Though many details differ, the books are remarkably similar to the TV series, tonally. Added background details to the characters & plots make them enjoyable even after seeing the show. Hopefully they will feed us enough Lamb until season 4 drops at the end of 2024.

12 thoughts on “Slow Horses”

  1. I think we’re on round three(?) like Fargo, I get a lot out of the repeat process. Slow horses is sensational. On round one it took me a couple of eps to realise Mick Jagger was wailing out the theme song, which I love. It could have easily been on the Exile on Main Street album. As Joy keeps reminding me, there is an advantage in our age when it comes to repeat viewing!

    Reply
    • Yeah, I didn’t twig that Mick was singing the theme tune until after a few eps too. IF you are likewise missing Mr Lamb, try the audiobooks. We are pounding through them right now. The tone/characters are very much like the show BUT the plotting is different enough to still have plenty of surprises in store.

  2. I’ve watched the whole series and am listening to the 4th book in the series ‘Spook Street’ now, and you’ve just given me permission to watch the whole series again -thanks! – totally agree with John Hoffman about your drawings, jeez! + Mick’s opening is worth listening to every time for me.

    Reply
    • We are on the 3rd book in the series now, and have been enjoying them so far. The tone & characters are very close to the show but there are enough differences in plot to keep us guessing.

  3. I’ve not watched any episodes, but I love when dramatic things are run by someone who gets humor. Fargo (the movie…I’ve not watched the show) is a fave movie because it’s so brutal, but…also funny. (And just so well done.)

    From this entry, it sounds like that kind of thing?

    Reply
  4. I mentioned this somewhere already, i find it just the teensy bit flippant, but when it is working, it works. End of season 3 came through brilliantly! Oldman is great in anything. And i am in LOVE LOVE LOVE with Kristin Scott Thomas!

    Reply

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