The British may not be the greatest spies in history – not if we eliminate from the list all those impeccable agents who had the small flaw of also being some of the greatest traitors of all time – but they are the most elegant and, Above all, those who have managed through fiction to shape the image we have of this world of secrets and betrayals. James Bond on the spectacular, luxurious and gulf side (despite the changes that have taken place in the 21st century) and George Smiley on the reflective and high literary variant form a cast that would be incomplete without the continuators of the tradition (the Jackson Lamb by Mick Herron or Charles Cumming’s Thomas Kell) and, above all, without Harry Palmer. A new series released in Movistar Plus+ (Harry Palmer: The Ipcress File) and the recovery of Michael Caine’s films update a myth not so well known in the world of espionage, the perfect complement to the two giants created by Ian Fleming and John Le Carré.
But who is Harry Palmer? To begin with, an unnamed individual in the novels by Len Deighton, who began the series in 1962. The British writer left his narrator and protagonist unnamed (which creates a problem when it comes to knowing how many are starring him: the canon collects four, others go up to eight) and it was the actor Michael Caine and the producer Harry Saltzman (responsible with Albert R. Broccoli for the film empire around 007) who baptized him for the film adaptation of The Ipcress File in 1965. The film can be seen on Movistar Plus+ along with Funeral in Berlin (1966), two of the three times the British actor played the spy. It is a good and dark first contact with the character: Caine’s elegance, nobody has ever worn glasses like that, and the soundtrack by John Barry (responsible for the musical identity of 007) sustain a classic film of the Cold War.
But it is the six-part series —also available on Movistar Plus+, from Monday 6 complete on demand— that updates the character and gives him relevance in the 21st century. Joe Cole (Peaky Blinders) is not Caine, but he manages very well in a production that nimbly delves into the character of Harry Palmer: a military man disgraced by a smuggler, a veteran of Korea, of humble origins, with higher studies in mathematics, as irreverent as he is good in the art of survival, gourmet and gentleman. He begins his mission in the world of espionage forced by circumstances, but soon understands that he is trapped by his own commitment. “How come you’re so good at this? Because, whether you want to admit it or not, you care”, Dalby’s boss tells him, an excellent Tom Hollander, one of the many secondary actors who gives solidity to the story.
the plot of Harry Palmer: The Ipcress File It is the same as that of the novel and the film, only that, developed more calmly, it better attends to the character’s folds, seeks that complicated balance between spectacle and fun and psychological depth. The disappearance in suspicious circumstances of a prestigious physicist (nobody knows at first if he has been kidnapped or has defected) puts British espionage before a sophisticated brainwashing system invented by the Soviets to steal nuclear secrets. The story hides other conspiracies and corrupted loyalties, all pure espionage, all pure Cold War.
There are other ingredients in favor of this television version. Lucy Boynton plays Jean Courtney, a pioneer, a woman dedicated to her career as a spy who brings a depth to her relationship with Palmer impossible 50 years ago, neither in the books nor, much less, in a film supported by the producer of James Bond. “For men it is easier to lie. Everything is always easier for men”, she complains. She is the one who knows the world of espionage, the one who lectures Palmer, the one who resists her advances, who tells him just before an assault on a house, armed and bag in hand: “We will do whatever it takes ”. Nor does the black CIA agent Paul Maddox (Ashley Thomas) remain the mere decoration that he is in the film version.
After a start marked by a staging full of rhythm, the series stops in some aspects to accelerate again from the middle. There are international scenarios (Berlin, Beirut…) so loved by espionage, a classic will, something vintage, from the design of the title credits and a lot of respect for the genre. And, although it is not the essential and the promotion leads to a certain deception, the series exudes elegance: in the hats always well placed, in the well-cut coats, in the rooms where they meet, in the gestures, something almost intangible and very British. . The style of the series, without reaching its greatness, is somewhat reminiscent of Endeavor. A good way to bring to our time a not so well known myth of the Cold War, the favorite world of the great spies, traitors or not.
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