Monday, 9 November 2015

London Spy: Stuff Happens

Twenty years ago, I stood on the dangerous and decrepit former incarnation of the Hungerford pedestrian bridge that connects the north and south banks of the River Thames. The old bridge was afflicted with crime and it wasn’t a place to linger. But that night, I looked out over the city skyline and asked – as though London were a wise mentor capable of answering back – whether life got any easier.

I don’t recall another occasion when I’ve seriously contemplated suicide. But standing there, I realised that death would be the end of everything good, as well as everything bad. My life, which had been a largely happy one, full of love and potential, would have been rewritten in those troubled hours, as one of perpetual despair leading to that act. I would have wound up as a statistic, engulfed by a much wider narrative about a society in which many young gay people, such as me, struggle to cope...

Herein lies the premise for my first television drama series London Spy, a thriller which opens with my character, Danny (played by the Bafta-winning actor Ben Whishaw) standing on Lambeth Bridge, feeling low and asking the London skyline whether life gets any easier.

London answers him with a chance encounter, an early morning runner who stops to ask if he’s OK. Introducing himself as Alex, an unusual connection forms between these men who are opposites in many ways. It’s unusual in the sense that it’s special to both parties, but it’s also unusual for mainstream drama on the BBC, which rarely places gay relationships at the heart of stories.

Alex claims to be working in the financial services: he’s successful and wealthy. He’s also anti-social and profoundly shy, doesn’t do drugs or hang out in clubs. A love story begins that promises happiness for both. However,
[SPOILER ALERT!!!] eight months into their relationship Alex is found dead in a sex room designed for multiple anonymous encounters, littered with drugs and extreme bondage gear... 

Tim Rob Smith, the writer of London Spy, which starts on BBC2 this evening, writing for the Telegraph.

Apparently, it's 'quite good'.

After Alex vanishes, the main relationship we follow is between Danny and Scottie, Jim Broadbent’s character. An elderly, wise but wounded figure, Scottie used to work in the secret services, and acts as a kind of mentor to Danny. For writer Smith, Scottie represents someone he never had growing up: “I really envied people who had that figure,” he says. “So this is my version.”

There are also hints of unrequited love between the pair, an original set-up for the typically macho world of the spy thriller. But although these gay relationships are at the heart of it, Broadbent stresses “it’s not a gay story” as he stares me down with his quizzical blue eyes. “It’s not about that. It’s about these particular guys, who happen to be gay, who are in the midst of this maelstrom of an unfolding tale.” ...

Jim Broadbent, quoted in The Guardian.

Note Broadbent appears to be talking about the relationship between his character and Whishaw's - not our two star-crossed young gay lovers, as The Guardian headline implies.

Whatever, 'happens to be gay', is such a braindead and banal cliche - and the three main characters sexuality hardly seems incidental to this story - so can we just not?


  1. "Whatever, 'happens to be gay', is such a braindead and banal cliche, can we just not?"

    Sometimes cliches, even banal ones, do a decent job, as here.

  2. and its always a nice surprise to see a decent arse on screen....and the acting though like an advert for an awkward gay singles holiday wasnt half bad....