Kim Philby may not be as infamous a name to many young TV fans, but the story of the MI6 agent and secret Soviet spy will surely garner new interest in the case as the story gets the blockbuster treatment in the new series A Spy Among Friends.
Sure to satisfy the cravings of espionage lovers, this six-part series is based on Ben Macintyre’s novel of the same name and tells the story of the friendship between MI6 agents Nicholas Elliot and Kim Philby, with the story spanning from Turkey to Britain, and Lebanon to the US, as this real-life tale of double-crossing, friends at odds and deceit plays out on screen.
Opening with the grand reveal of Philby (Guy Pearce) being outed as a traitor to the UK after posing as an MI6 agent for 20 years while also working for the KGB, we see him receiving a visit from his old friend Elliott (Damian Lewis) in Beirut. Here Elliott is tasked with getting a confession, despite the emotional toil of this betrayal and his repressed anger, as Philby walks the line so as to escape once more, and from there the story jumps around from their early days of friendship, through the war and into the fallout of the discovery.
Performances are quality all around and bring these real-life people back to life on screen. Lewis is emphatic as Elliott, presenting the role of the betrayed friend with equal parts of sadness, frustration, and confusion through various stages. He balances all these feelings well, particularly as you see his world fall apart. Similarly, Pearce shows Philby to be charismatic and appealing, demonstrating how he was able to infiltrate the force and succeed in duping his colleagues and friends. Lastly, Anna Maxwell Martin rounds out the core cast as Lily Thomas, an MI5 agent who explores what went down, playing on some of the traditional inquisitive agent tropes with flair and nuance.
The pacing of the story will be the most divisive part of the series, as A Spy Among Friends relies on the mystery of the slow burn, with intense emotional highs and lows, in lieu of explosive scenes. Scenes with the core actors are captivating and so multi-layered, that repeat viewing yields strong results.
Unfortunately, at times the script is a bit stuffy and dumbs down the exciting parts of the story with slower interview scenes and conversations, extending the run time and dumbing down the dynamic parts of the story – explosions, man hunts, and more that audiences can expect in spy thrillers. While still entertaining and impactful, the series lacks the unadulterated magnetism of its central character itself to truly thrill and entertain.