Spooks Revisited: A Look Back at The Greater Good
Spooks was a serious yet stylish spy drama with a penchant for twisty-turny plots of the week, conspiracy and melodrama, and abrupt character exits. Now, a decade since the show ended and almost twice that time since it began, The Digital Fix has just wrapped up its fortnightly rundown of each individual series.
But that wasn’t where Spooks finished up: four years later, the show was brought to the big screen in 2015 with Spooks: The Greater Good. With Bharat Naluri returning to direct and screenwriters Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent picking up where they left off at the end of series ten, the stage was set for an action-packed epilogue to a solidly entertaining series.
Does the film soar or sag? Find out in the very final instalment of Spooks Revisited.
It’s great to have Naluri back behind the directing wheels of the Spooks vehicle. As mentioned in our recap of series ten, he was there at the beginning and it makes sense for him to be there at the end too. He does an admirable job translating the fast-paced, shaky-cam style of the television series across to film, and never lets the pace drag. The opening sequence in particular – in which a big-name terrorist escapes MI5 custody, and a moral decision could mean the death of dozens of innocents – is a thrilling setup for the rest of the plot, which is full of chases down wet London streets, strained conversations with untrustworthy superiors, and more than one close escape for our two leads.
The main returning character from the series is Peter Firth’s Harry Pearce, head of counterterrorism at MI5 and rarely glimpsed without his perpetually jowly mouth and furrowed brow. Harry is blamed for the terrorist’s escape and subsequently goes on the run, but suspects a traitor in the MI5 ranks. And capitalising upon his then-recent stardom in Game of Thrones, Kit Harington was cast as the film’s other lead Will Holloway, an old protégé of Harry’s with whom he works to stop an impending terror attack.
One of the key strengths of Spooks on television was its ensemble cast. There’s some considerable talent in The Greater Good’s line-up (Tim McInnerny, Jennifer Ehle, David Harewood and Tuppence Middleton each appear in supporting roles), but the skewed focus on Will and Harry and their grudging relationship is at the expense of Erin, Calum and Malcolm, the other three returning cast members played by Lara Pulver, Geoffrey Streatfeild and Hugh Simon respectively. Erin barely registers before being shot in only her second scene of the film, Calum is barely seen out from behind a computer screen before being killed, and Malcolm’s skills as a tech whiz are only briefly utilised before he too vanishes.
Brackley and Vincent, who succeeded so confidently in series nine and ten of the show, resort to well-worn Spooks tropes without doing anything too innovative. The villain Adem Qasim (Elyes Gabel) is cardboard cut-out non-white extremist of a type we’ve seen dozens of times before, a man whose wife has been taken away and who seeks to send a violent message to the West. The betrayal within MI5 is given little time to get off the ground, and even the final conversation between Harry and the traitor (Ehle’s Deputy Director-General) proves almost identical to that of the pre-titles sequence of series nine’s first episode. As effective as such tropes are, surely for a feature film there’s something more compelling or innovative they could have tapped into?
But it’s not all bad news. A bigger budget makes for bigger set pieces than the show could have ever accomplished. Thames House HQ set has been expanded and upgraded, proceedings have a cinematic feel befitting the large screen (looking somehow even more slick than on television, if that were possible), and the sound mixing is top-notch. And Dominic Lewis’ score jitters and pulses with energy, all drums and heavy guitar for sequences of tension before the strings kick in for the more emotional moments.
The Greater Good is the product of an intriguing film experiment: bring Spooks to the big screen, give it a bigger, cinema-going audience and cap off a decade of entertaining spy drama. The production team’s predicament was clear. On the one hand, if they did something radical with the property, they’d risk alienating dedicated fans familiar with the trusted Spooks format; alternatively, sticking close to what worked before would put them in peril of doing nothing interesting enough to justify a feature film being made in the first place.
As it is, the film exists in a strange limbo, condensing a six or eight episodes’ worth of material in one hundred minutes, and the result is a mixed bag. The style and tone are there in spades and it’s far from being badly made, but everything’s done and dusted in a hurry and the story could have been better served as an eleventh series for the show. A Spooks devotee will likely delight in the tense standoffs and shaky-cam chases, but as a standalone film The Greater Good is less compelling – and, ultimately, an unnecessary extension upon the Spooks brand.
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