Film review: Spooks: The Greater Good Print
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 08 May 2015 14:26

Director: Bharat Nalluri
Cast: Kit Harington, Peter Firth, Tuppence Middleton
Certificate: 15

It's hard to believe that it's been 13 years since Spooks first premiered on the BBC. It was a different time then. iPhones hadn't been invented. Netflix didn't exist. There was always talk of a Spooks movie during its TV rein, but now, in an age where superhero blockbusters are the norm, can the small screen franchise work on the big screen?

The ghost of TV past looms over The Greater Good throughout, with a large part of the action taking place indoors, as people sit in offices and talk at each other. But that approach is exactly what a Spooks movie needs: this is more Michael Caine's The Ipcress File than Michael Bay.

The script, from Season 9 and 10 writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent, sees a terrorist break out of custody mid-transfer, leaving former agent Will (Harington) to track him down. Kat Harington brings his Jon Snow game to the table, all convincing frown and surprised eyes, but the main character turns out to be someone else entirely: Harry Pearce.

Peter Firth's MI5 boss emerged as the real star of the show during its near-decade run, weary yet impassioned, ageing yet alert. His endless shady back-stories and consistent emotional character development set the template for Bond's modern M - it's no coincidence that Skyfall felt, in part, like an unofficial Spooks spin-off. Pearce himself is no less magnetic writ large, carrying all that baggage to the cinema - a bag filled with dead agents and corrupt officials. But if anything, he's more active than ever.

"I still know a trick or two," he says, before getting to work. That work, crucially, isn't blowing things up or shooting down armies. His espionage is a world of envelopes under doorways and codes on postcards. One sequence where he leaves instructions for Will throughout Heathrow airport is thrilling precisely because it outfoxes the high-tech agents trying to track him down.

Tuppence Middleton's June adds a welcome, ambiguous edge to these new faces, while Tim McInnerny (reprising his role of Oliver Mace) gives the secret service a familiar murky depth - fans will be delighted to hear that he's not the only TV cast member making an appearance. This is Pearce's show, though, using his drive for the titular greater good as the crux of the plot's whole ethical dilemma. "How can you make these decisions?" asks Will. "It's my job," comes the steely reply.

That focus on subtle smarts rather than whizz-bang CGI ensures that Spooks stays small in the best way possible. When it does open up, director Bharat Nalluri uses real locations to ground his glossy, grey set pieces. Even a slight re-design of Thames House has an intelligent pay-off. There are some moves designed to distinguish this from its source, with a notable lack of split-screen and no sign of the theme tune in Dominic Lewis's score, but Spooks works best when embracing its origins. In a year when Fast & Furious throws cars out of Dubai skyscrapers, this is a welcome reminder that suspense and spectacle are two different things.