If you liked Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (our review here), you’re going to love The Game. This little-known, underappreciated 2014 spy series has a plot worthy of John le Carré and an impressive cast.
Brian Cox, who stars as the Rupert Murdoch-inspired media mogul Logan Roy in Succession, is the director of MI5. Victoria Hamilton, who played the Queen Mother Elizabeth in the first two seasons of The Crown, is the secret service’s Soviet expert. Paul Ritter, who so brilliantly portrayed the man most responsible for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the eponymous 2019 HBO miniseries (our review here), and who sadly died of a brain tumor earlier this year, is cast perfectly as an sly, ambitious bureaucrat.
The central character is Joe Lambe (Tom Hughes), a young MI5 agent who stumbles on a communist plot to undermine British democracy.
Set in 1972 (Tinker Tailor takes place in 1973), the six episodes of The Game are a treasure trove of Cold War tropes. There are defectors and moles, secret American nuclear weapons, the “letters of last resort”: the prime minister’s instructions to the commanders of Britain’s four nuclear submarines in case of a Soviet nuclear attack. The IRA is involved.
The 1970s-style production design is excellent, including the use of the since-demolished Brutalist Birmingham Central Library as MI5 headquarters.
My only lament is that Hughes’ character is a bit of a cliché: the lone genius mistrusted by his peers for a horrible mistake, but who redeems himself in the end. To Hughes’ credit, he does squeeze the most out of his role, and the strength of the story makes up for the weakness of his character.