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Ben Whishaw Plays Reckless and Reluctant in 'London Spy'
January 21, 2016  | By David Hinckley

PASADENA, CA -- London Spy, a mystery series that kicks off at 10 p.m. ET Thursday on BBC America, will delight viewers who savor peeling the onion slowly.

It hitches its wagon to a masterful performance by Ben Whishaw as Danny, a young Brit who has been adrift and seems to find an anchor, only to lose that anchor to a mysterious murder that the authorities try to write off as a suicide.

He finds his purpose again as he tries to track down who was responsible and why, answers that turn out to be far more complex and dangerous than he imagined.

As this vague description suggests, London Spy is a story with a beginning and an end, wrapping up in five episodes. It plays more like a long movie, one that takes its time to let us absorb and in a strange way savor the uncertainty and growing sense of menace that begins to engulf Danny.

Whishaw, who is known in the U.S. for shows like The Hour, creates an alluring contradiction in Danny.
On the one hand, he’s outgoing to the point of recklessness. On the other, he clearly keeps part of himself hidden, because he doesn’t see a place where he fits comfortably into the world around him – save for his time with his murdered paramour.

We learn more about Danny’s story as the episodes unfold, and the show nicely underscores his personal torments through an older quasi-mentor, Scottie, played by Jim Broadbent.

Scottie shares one of Danny’s biggest dilemmas, perhaps even more acutely, and we learn he thought of dealing with it in the same way Danny apparently has.

But Scottie isn’t just an older echo. Scottie has advice, not all of which he shares, about how Danny might go about trying to convince the authorities there is a murder to be solved.

Seems Scottie had some involvement with the espionage community, for whom Danny’s lover was also working. It’s a community that does not particular want its secrets revealed.

Danny pays some attention to Scottie’s advice, which might be more accurately described as warnings. But mostly Danny plunges in on his own impulses, as a combination of wild, obsessive cowboy and reluctant civilian with nowhere else to turn.

Danny’s peril only grows, of course, as he pushes the authorities. Sometimes he seems to understand this and be concerned. Other times, not, particularly when he saddles up and rides back into his original quest.

Danny isn’t always likeable, and only slowly does he become easier to understand. Because London Spy operates at a deliberate pace even when the action begins to accelerate, it’s not a show for everyone.

But no one who watches will regret having seen what Whishaw creates.
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