When we think of spies on screen we tend to think of James Bond or Ethan Hunt – super slick, gadget laden and seemingly impossible to kill, they make spying look like the best job in the world.
Slow Horses gives us the anthesis of that.
Based on a series of books by mystery writer Mick Herron, they tell the story of the titular Slow Horses – a group of spies who for various (often embarrassing) reasons have been outcast from working at the main MI5 building, and instead find themselves doing largely boring work under the leadership of Jackson Lamb – a seemingly gross and mean manager, who through his mockery and insight might just be teaching them how to get good at their jobs.
Lamb, known for farting, guzzling down takeaway food and having holes in his socks, is very far removed from 007, and Gary Oldman who plays him, told Backstage, the TV and film podcast from Sky News, that’s one of the great things about the show.
“I think that you go and see something like a James Bond movie – I certainly remember as a kid, you know, wanting to be in that world – you go, ‘Wow, who wouldn’t want to be James Bond?’,” Oldman said.
“He can shoot 10 bad guys, fall off a building and then just dust off his tuxedo, you know what I mean?
“With Slow Horses, I think maybe some of the characters you watch, you go, ‘Oh thank God I’m not like that’ – it’s the total reverse.”
Jack Lowden who plays an operative desperate to be a field agent, says the drama’s charm lies in its authenticity – what he refers to as the “M25ness” of the action.
He explained to Backstage: “They meet in lay-bys and service stations rather than on romantic cliff edges or anything like that or dangling from a plane – so it’s definitely cheaper.
“But no, it’s great to play, and it takes less imagination in a way, and it means that we can really just focus on the interplay between the characters and how they operate as people – it’s my favourite thing about it.”
Also returning for the second series is Kristin Scott Thomas, whose character Diana Taverner is the deputy director-general of MI5, and often at odds with her Slough House counterparts.
She says being on the show has given her some insight in to the kind of spy she would make.
“I’d be completely rubbish, I know that, but it’s fun pretending,” Scott Thomas explained.
“I think it’s quite fun to play somebody who has such incredibly strong antennae and who can pick up things and can sort of pre-empt what people are going to do.
“It’s great fun playing somebody who has who is so in tune with her environment.”
Saskia Reeves, who plays Lamb’s often maligned office administrator Katherine Standish says she’s delighted the show – which has already been renewed for a third and fourth series – is continuing.
“I love my character, I love Katherine.
“I was so happy when I got given the chance to play her and I’ve read all of the books and I know where she’s [going], it’s just fantastic.”
“And it’s lovely to play a woman of a certain age and not have to pretend to be something else, you know? I like that.”
It seems there is some cross-over between the worlds of spying and acting – with both requiring a certain amount of pretence.
Lowden says that’s something he’s picked up on, though his series gives a less glamorous take on the undercover profession.
He said: “Funnily enough, I watched a film the other night, which was about a true story about a sting operation that the police did, an undercover operation, and it really did strike me when I watched that was how much acting actually has to be at play, to trap people.
“And I wonder if they kind of like try an accent or, you know, a moustache – I think there’s massive crossovers.
“And how much, as someone told us, how much our industry has done for the intelligence industry in terms of recruitment – our industry makes it look a lot sexier than it probably is… maybe not this though.”
Slow Horses series 2 is streaming now on Apple TV+