TV review: The Game, BBC Two (3 stars)

TV review: The Game, BBC Two

The spying game gets played for stifled laughs in this new drama with Brian Cox

There seems to be a long-term unwritten rule that spy dramas (whether on page or screen) are mind-squeezingly complicated beasts. Keeping track of the intricate manoeuvring of plots and motivations of every single character is usually about as straightforward as being blindfolded while trying to catch George Smiley in a maze.

Given the genre’s back catalogue, the viewer should really be baffled beyond sobbing despair after ten minutes of The Game. Yet, some two episodes in, you might find yourself explaining its synopsis with little hesitation, deviation or repetition. Perhaps this is a tribute to the crystal-clear writing of the series, or it could be a sign that fictional espionage has finally dumbed down to the point where The Game is a Tinker Tailor for the attention-deficit Twitter masses.

We are in 1972 and the Cold War is at its chilly heights with fears emanating from within MI5 that those devious Reds have a permanently twitchy finger on the nuclear button with all their shiny missiles pointed towards dear old Blighty. The Soviets’ mysterious Operation Glass is revealed by a defecting KGB officer who yearns to read The Times, send his kids to Eton and sip warm beer even if it ultimately means that one day a poisoned brolly might be inserted into his groin.

Brian Cox plays ‘Daddy’, the avuncular head of MI5 who might be on a sticky wicket due to his department having spectacularly blundered one too many times of late, but he can still take a moment to mumble profound homilies and spit pearls of unfeasible wisdom during staff meetings. With agents and contacts being despatched in ever more brutally clinical ways, our heroes (led by the painfully sullen Lancastrian Joe Lambe, played by Tom Hughes), embark on a mission to smash apart Operation Glass. The sombre mood is bizarrely lifted when the sleazily ambitious yet motherly-henpecked Bobby Waterhouse (Paul Ritter, he of the ‘shit on it’ catchphrase from Friday Night Dinner) makes a Carry On-like seduction move on the team’s young secretary.

If you’re not sniggering into your sleeve at the more preposterous elements of this six-parter, there may well be plenty to enjoy as the political suddenly gets personal: will Lambe ever gain vengeance on the apple-chomping assassin who shot and drowned his Polish girlfriend in an undercover mission that went horribly wrong?

The Game starts on BBC Two, Thu 30 Apr, 9pm.