James Delingpole James Delingpole

Still the best thing on TV: Apple TV+’s Slow Horses reviewed

Plus: if you want to feel really depressed, I highly recommend Squid Game: The Challenge

Gary Oldman’s Jackson Lamb could sit there breaking wind for an entire episode, and still you’d watch, enthralled

Slow Horses is the best thing on television. And it’s now so successful and popular it can afford to launch series three with a sequence worthy of James Bond: Istanbul location budget; spectacular chase sequences involving cars and speedboats with some thrillingly dangerous manoeuvres round a huge container vessel; a beautiful, immaculately dressed female agent meeting (spoiler alert, though to be fair you can see this one coming a mile off) a tragically sticky end.

Except it’s better than Bond – not that difficult these days, it must be said – because it is missing all that grim portentousness, over-earnestness and pomposity. The cars are beaten up and gadget-free; the stunts look plausible; and the agents behave like real human beings. When one catches another rifling through her private documents (they are lovers) and she asks him what he’s up to he can’t think of a decent lie on the spot. Conspiracies there may be, but all the main focus is on the cock-ups.

The jokes show where it differs from its obvious influence: John le Carré. George Smiley, I imagine, was something akin to the spy David Cornwell would have liked to have been when he was a spook: reserved, meticulous, relentless, dull but decent. But I doubt there’s much fantasy wish fulfilment in Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb, whose most notable characteristics are that he is overweight, farts a lot and lives off kebabs and whisky.

Actually, maybe there is a bit because, scabrously played by Gary Oldman, Lamb does have a few enviable strengths to counter his weaknesses. First, indestructibility: on that diet he really ought to be dead by now, and isn’t. Second, a talent for colourful invective: ‘You lot are about as useless as a paper condom.’ Third, for all his air of cynicism and indifference, a level of competence that tells us it’s him who should really be deputy head of MI5 and not his snooty nemesis, Diana Taverner (played by Kristin Scott Thomas).

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