REVIEW: THE GAME

Starring

Tom Hughes (Silk)
Brian Cox (Super Troopers)
Paul Ritter (The Libertine)
Shaun Dooley (Eden Lake)
Chloe Pirrie (War & Peace)
Victoria Hamilton (The Crown)
Jonathan Aris (Rogue One)
Marcel Iureș (The Cave)
Rachael Stirling (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen)
Zana Marjanović (Broken)
Goran Navojec (Our Everyday Life)

Tom Hughes in The Game (2014)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Steven Mackintosh (Underworld: Evolution)
Gemma Chan (Mary Queen of Scots)
Emma Fielding (Close To The Enemy)
Anton Lesser (Game of Thrones)

Chloe Pirrie in The Game (2014)Joe Lambe (Tom Hughes) is a young MI5 operative in 1972 London. The previous year, Joe had fallen in love with Yulia (Zana Marjanović), one of his Russian contacts. He had tried to defect to the Soviet Union to be with her but Joe was arrested and Yulia was shot by a KGB enforcer he had not encountered before. Joe’s MI5 superior, codenamed “Daddy” (Brian Cox), covers for him and insists that the attempted defection was a sanctioned undercover operation gone wrong and that Joe was only acting on the orders given to him; the outcome of the defection had gone awry and was out of Joe’s control.Brian Cox, Jonathan Aris, Shaun Dooley, Victoria Hamilton, Paul Ritter, Tom Hughes, and Chloe Pirrie in The Game (2014)MI5 is contacted by Soviet university professor Arkady Malinov (Marcel Iureș), who reveals he is a KGB sleeper agent working undercover in the United Kingdom. He tells them that he has been recruited to take part in “Operation Glass”, a secret plan of game-changing importance, but he wants to defect. Joe is convinced by everything Arkady tells them except for the reason he wants to defect, that he wants to be a capitalist. He will be used as a go-between to pass messages to other sleeper agents in Britain. Daddy assembles a team to look into Operation Glass, including Joe; the ambitious civil servant Bobby Waterhouse (Paul Ritter); field agent and analyst Sarah Montag (Victoria Hamilton); her husband, Alan (Jonathan Aris), who is a bugging expert; and Daddy’s secretary, Wendy (Chloe Pirrie). Joining them is Special Branch detective Jim Fenchurch (Shaun Dooley). As the team investigates Operation Glass, they remain in the dark as to what it is, or even whether Arkady is a trustworthy informant or a double agent.Marcel Iures and Tom Hughes in The Game (2014)Their early leads seem to confirm the worst, as they discover that a Soviet sleeper agent has been attempting to learn the contents of the letters of last resort, which instruct British nuclear submarines on whether to launch their nuclear missiles should Britain be the victim of a nuclear attack. Later, they investigate Kate Wilkinson (Rachael Stirling), an MI6 officer who has been having an affair with an American Air Force officer stationed at RAF Lakenheath, where the Americans are secretly storing nuclear weapons. Plans for a nuclear device are found in Wilkinson’s possession and the team believes that the Soviets intend to detonate an American nuclear weapon in Britain, passing it off as an accident. However, Joe discovers evidence that the MI6 agent was framed, Alan realises the technical plans have been largely faked and the team comes to the conclusion that Operation Glass was an overly elaborate feint by the Russians.Zana Marjanovic and Tom Hughes in The Game (2014)During this time, Joe discovers that the Soviet enforcer who murdered Yulia goes by the codename “Odin” and works in the West, eliminating treacherous agents who attempt to defect or betray Russia. Joe had actually encountered Odin at one of their early investigations in London, but was unable to capture him. Arkady is persuaded to use a friend within the Russian embassy — who soon pays with his life — and is thus able to inform the group that there is a mole in MI5, codenamed “Phoenix”. Arkady’s motivation for defecting is revealed to be a secret French wife and young daughter, but before MI5 can reunite them, he too is murdered by Odin, who can only have been given Arkady’s location by Phoenix. Inexplicably sparing Joe, Odin escapes again.Brian Cox and Tom Hughes in The Game (2014)As Joe and Jim Fenchurch begin investigating the possibilities of who might be the mole in MI5, they get a tip from the police about a former army officer called Philip Denmore, who has been enlisting the IRA for help in building a bomb. They send Wendy into his house posing as a nurse to gather information, but he eludes them along with his home-made device. Joe and Jim stake out a location which Phoenix had used as a dead drop and are shocked when they discover Alan coming out the booth. Under interrogation, Alan admits to being the mole but nonetheless helps MI5 analyse a phone call to determine Denmore’s location. Joe recognises it as the street outside of the Conservative Party headquarters and rushes to the scene, but arrives too late to prevent the detonation by a suicidal Denmore. Later, Sarah is surprised outside her home by Odin — but invites him inside to discuss her role as the real mole inside MI5 and the compromises that have already taken place.Victoria Hamilton in The Game (2014)Still believing Alan to be the mole, the team digs into his past to discover possible motives and what secrets he may have compromised to the Russians. Wendy also discovers that a high-ranking Metropolitan Police official, whose name connects to a child who died in infancy, seems to have no official record prior to joining the force. Suspecting a plant, Bobby orders Wendy to look for other officials in the government who have mysterious and unexplainable gaps in their record, as well as former known radicals who inexplicably disappeared at coinciding times. Jim tracks down Colin Blakefield, a smuggler who had put Denmore in contact with the IRA and who also has Soviet contacts. Blakefield reveals that the Soviets had instructed him to prepare a fake passport for one of their agents: Joe Lambe. Daddy is furious at this fresh betrayal and the authorities attempt to arrest Joe, but he escapes and goes on the run, aided by Sarah, who encourages him to seek out Odin.Brian Cox in The Game (2014)Prior to his going on the run, Wendy had told Joe she had discovered an audio tape where a drunk Russian agent brags openly about knowing Phoenix. Every reference to the person’s real name has been removed, presumably by Alan. When Joe listens to the tape, he discovers that not only the name but also the pronouns referring to this person have been removed; he deduces that what’s missing are all instances of “her” and “she”, meaning that Sarah is the mole and Alan has only confessed to cover for her as he still loves her. When Joe confronts Sarah, she tells him that Yulia is still alive in Soviet custody and that if he wants to see her, he should report to a given address — Daddy will never believe she is the real Phoenix anyway. She then goes to see her imprisoned husband, to give him a cover story which he can use until her compatriots rescue him (in fact, Odin has already tried to have him killed). Alan, however, uses a threat of suicide to prove she cares about him.Tom Hughes in The Game (2014)Wendy and Bobby reveal to Daddy that they have discovered a dozen highly placed figures in government who lack any early history and have names taken from dead infants, so are potential Communist moles. Daddy realises that all of the people on the list have significant ties to the Deputy Prime Minister, who is in effect the operator of the real Operation Glass: it is still ongoing, with the silent coup d’etat to be the shooting by a sniper of the Prime Minister as he tours the site of the bombing at Conservative Party HQ. It is planned that, in the aftermath of this assassination, various heads would roll (including Daddy’s) and all of the Communist moles would move up in the bureaucracy. The Deputy Prime Minister would be free to run the country as Prime Minister, effectively placing Britain under Communist rule with the Deputy Prime Minister taking orders from Soviet Russia.When Joe goes to the address Sarah had given him, he finds Odin and a sniper about to kill the prime minister. Joe will be given a passport and allowed to escape with Yulia, thus MI5’s downfall will be complete. Odin has a gun to her head and Joe’s prints are put on the sniper rifle — but it is not the PM who arrives outside at the bombing site, but Jim. Joe is wearing a wire, having gone to Daddy with his information on Sarah. An MI5 sniper shoots Odin, Joe tackles the KGB sniper and rescues Yulia. Odin attempts to escape once more but Joe finally corners him. Odin dies, having taken a cyanide pill, telling Joe that Julia has been working for them and continues to do so.A few anomalies in the script could have been avoided, though. Why did the KGB pretend to kill Julia instead of making Joe do their wicked will by pressing a gun to her head? Why wasn’t Joe chief suspect from the start? But these pale into insignificance beside the scene in the last part where Sarah meets her husband in the safe-house without thinking that the room is certain to be bugged. Beans spilled all over the show after 25 years of great care to ensure against such mishaps. In the annals of great TV dramas, this rates as a schoolboy-howler. Still an enjoyable, pleasingly-retro, thriller. Those of us who enjoyed LeCarre and Deighton will have a nice glow of nostalgia whilst watching this one and the youngsters can learn how TV drama should be done.