back to article Spooks: Big-screen upgrade for MI5 agents fails to be a hit job

Most serious spy movies seem to be pretty much the same these days: a parkour-fuelled, adrenaline-pumping, extremely violent rollercoaster through an occasionally thin plot, such as the Bourne and modern Bond franchises. However, every so often, you get the quiet, studied manipulations of a film like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy …

  1. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Tech Angle

    At the insistence of my housemate, I once read a thriller by a Spooks writer. It was no John le Carre. A bit that was annoying was the hero was given a two-part GPS co-ordinate, 54321, 12345 or whatever on a scrap of paper that takes him to an office block. The narrator then tells us that because he is a spy, he has a special GPS receiver that can give him altitude information, so he know which floor his target is on. WTF? He didn't have a Z-axis co-ordinate to work with!

    Rubbish In, Rubbish Out. There is a reason I've watched the Wire, and Alec Guinness in Tinker Tailor, but not Spooks.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tech Angle

      I ♥ Spooks because of the Apple product placement since Series 1.

    2. fridaynightsmoke

      Re: Tech Angle

      Don't forget the TV episode where they race to stop a Russian submarine splicing into an undersea fibre optic cable, in order to put a virus on the internet.

  2. Nigel Whitfield.

    Peter Firth

    So glad they got him on board for this

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I read no further once the reviewer praised the film version of 'Tinker, Tailor..' I'll add another vote for the TV version.

    I did start to watch the 'Spooks' TV series but gave up when one of the spooks obtained a laptop and took it home despite my shouting at him that he should check for bombs first. Surprise, surprise, it was a bomb.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      I'd read the book of Tinker Tailer before seeing the recent film version. The film has some merits, but I couldn't work out who it was for... there was too much plot squeezed into too short a running time. People who didn't already know the story told me they found the plot of the film confusing. For people who had read the book or watched the Alex Guinness version, the film had a couple of changes that were confusing. The production design and acting were very good though.

      All of that holds for a recent Le Carre adaptation, starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, A Most Wanted Man. The plot, motives and twists seemed clearer in the book. Perhaps 'mini-series' are a more natural format for Le Carre.

      Le Carre's book A Most Delicate Truth is ripe for an adaptation, an angry portrayal of Blair-era worldwide private security contractors milking politicians. The market for mercenaries is a big business these days ( )

    2. Lamont Cranston

      Whenever I've seen Spooks on the TV,

      the agents always seemed very keen to walk into an obvious trap (and die as a result, which is at least different from the usual TV formula). Expecting the film to feature intelligent characters seems hopelessly optimistic.

      Harry always seemed to avoid the fate of his younger colleagues by preferring to remain in the office, pouting and frowning like he was auditioning for Hollyoaks.

  4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Thanks for the review

    I was already half expecting it not be all that great when my wife told me they'd made the film.

    Your write-up only confirms what I suspected. I often take a reviewers opinion with a large pinch of salt (including yours!) but in this case I'm now sure that I'll wait for it come on telly before bothering with it.

  5. skeptical i

    Better to err on the side of intelligent.

    With Bourne and Bond having sewn up the spies-n-'splosions franchise, it's too bad the _Spooks_ crew didn't aim higher and focus more on the intelligence and intrigue. It's not like there's too much already going on in that genre. Squandered opportunity.

  6. boltar Silver badge

    Why did they dump the TV cast?

    Apart from Peter Firth obviously. They were a pretty good lineup and they can't all have been busy elsewhere. Seems a bit cynical to get a whole new cast in for a film - either they didn't have much confidence in the old lot or they needed it to be a bit more yank audience friendly. Hmm, wonder which is more likely.

    1. Havin_it

      Re: Why did they dump the TV cast?

      Those that survived to the end of the series, with the exception of Firth, have all gone on to bigger things, so they probably couldn't afford them now. And in the eyes of a film producer, there's never a reason not to pack the billing with the latest available beef-/cheesecake.

      I expect this to be more like Strike Back than the original show: start with the gung-ho guns'n'parkour guff, try to mix in some of the intrigue and shock-betrayal schtick, but come up rather short in the latter department.

      It's hard to top moments like the nice, bookish middle-aged analyst suddenly being revealed as a Russian sleeper as she garrotted the pugnacious new recruit with her razor-wire necklace. I bet there's not even anybody that old in the film, apart from Harry.

  7. davenewman

    Should have made a film of MI High

    The children's TV version by the same scriptwriters, MI High, was much better than Spooks, and funny to boot. That should be turned into a firm.

  8. Stevie Silver badge


    For true art-house cred, directors should be looking to make the definitive 2.5 hour big screen Sandbaggers or small-screen faithful Callan.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Long after even the audience has guessed at what’s going on, Will and his fellow youthful spooks, ..., are still floundering around about 10 moves behind. They come across like children playing with guns in comparison to Harry and other members of the older crew,"

    So, trying to be realistic then.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Agreed. I read "It doesn't help that the younger characters – who are supposed to be intelligence agents – come across more like Johnny English than James Bond." and I thought it was a true representation of the slide into mediocrity that our education systems seems to be on (or passed and well on the way to digging to new levels depending on who you vote for).

  10. Alfred

    Alternative TV offering - more TTSS than Spooks

    If you've not seen it, TV six parter "The Game" was more Tinker Tailor than Spooks, and is worth seeing if that's your kind of spy thriller. Set in '72, so proper cold war spying, it stars Brian Cox, lending some gravitas, and being spread over six episodes they didn't have to rush things. is

  11. auburnman

    When Spooks first came on the telly, and they killed off what was presumed to be a main character in the first episode (quite gruesomely)* it was a refreshing change to have a series where there was real drama and a feeling that our heroes might not come out unscathed. Unfortunately after many series they seemed to go too far the other way, refreshing almost the entire cast every 3 series or so. Everyone who 'left' was usually killed or disgraced or forced to flee the country, to the point where you failed to see the point in caring about New Guy #5, or why anyone would take such a disastrous and thankless job.

    *They later sent the SAS out on a revenge hit, which was also an interesting departure from super squeaky clean good guys.

  12. John 62

    Give me Bugs, any day

    Spooks just turned into a 24 rip off

  13. PhilipN Silver badge


    Having been given a DVD set of Spooks it lies on the shelf, episode 1 half-watched. Implausible and superficial. To respond to the remarks of an earlier poster, The Wire was just as bad, for different reasons. Cops and crooks were so clean, well coiffured and tidy. No loose threads. No missing buttons. The 5-o'clock shadows so orderly. And their motors - spick and span. No scratches and no mud.

    Having at one time practised criminal law (yes - I am no longer a criminal lawyer!) I can tell you that engaging with the nether parts of society is dingy, smelly and cloying.

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