Mick Herron created with his Slough House series of novels, a wonderfully absurd world of espionage. The most memorable character in his books is Jackson Lamb, the foul-mouthed and flatulent head of a lowly division of MI5, which is a dumping ground for the failures of the intelligence trade, those who screwed up so badly that MI5 won’t keep them on any more, and can’t fire. So, they end up in the derelict Slough House, and spend their days doing useless grunt work. They are nicknamed Slow Horses, for obvious reasons, and that was the title of the first book, and now the equally enjoyable series.
For those who have read the books, the series is an absolute delight, because the places and the characters come alive as they may have been imagined by the reader. All except perhaps Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb, who does not look or behave as disgustingly as the man in the book. Oldman, is however, a fine actor (winner of an Oscar and other awards), and he does get Lamb’s droll manner, scruffy appearance and unreadable eyes just right. Other spooks tend to look down on him and the Slough House bunch, but the elegant and devious second desk at MI5—Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas) is smart enough not to underestimate him.
Season One begins with the professional humiliation of River Cartwright (Jack Lowden), after he badly bungles a training exercise, due to the deliberate misdirection by a jealous colleague. Thanks to some string-pulling by his grandfather (Jonathan Pryce), a former spy and MI5 legend, he is not sacked, but dumped at Slough House, where he ignores Lamb’s orders to sit at his desk and do nothing. When the kidnapping and threatened beheading of a Muslim student (Antonio Aakeel) by a white right-wing group, blows up in the media, River can’t help but investigate; but there are wheels within wheels and Taverner wants to cover up for her blunder by throwing the Slow Horses under the bus. “They are losers,” she says to Lamb. “But they are my losers,” he snaps. He gets his feet (with filthy, tattered socks) off his cluttered table to show the snotty bunch at the swanky MI5 headquarters that he is no pushover, and won’t let his team be persecuted either.
Lamb’s assistant Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves) a recovering alcoholic, gets the worst of his cutting sarcasm, but the other Slow Horses – Sid (Olivia Cooke), Roddy (Christopher Chung), Min (Dustin Demri-Burns), Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar) and Struan (Paul Higgins)—are not spared his relentless verbal barbs or bursts of fetid bodily emissions.
Slow Horses is a cross between spy drama and office comedy, and hugely entertaining. So, it’s good to know that Season Two, based on the book Dead Lions, is coming up.
Directed by James Hawes
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jack Lowden and others
On Apple TV +