Film: MI-5 (Spooks: The Greater Good)

mi-5One of TV’s best spy shows returns in MI-5 (aka Spooks: The Greater Good) (2015), a surprisingly effective coda to the series. Generally, I’m trepidatious about resurrected franchises, and in light of the original series’ continuity-shattering cast turnover in its waning years, I wasn’t sure how much emotional investment I’d still have for this fictional universe. But the film works, thanks to a smart script that deploys a thoughtful theme amidst the requisite adventure and intrigue.

Sir Harry Pearce (Peter Firth), still stubbornly at the helm at MI-5, is supervising the transport of notorious terrorist Adem Qasim (Elyes Gabel) into custody when the operation goes horribly wrong. An agent is killed, Qasim escapes, and Pearce takes the fall. Cut loose from the service, Pearce fakes his own death, a move that alarms MI-5’s remaining leadership. What’s Harry up to? To find him, they enlist decommissioned officer Will Holloway (Game of Thrones’s Kit Harington) to track him down. What they don’t know is that Holloway plays right into Harry’s hidden agenda: preventing a terrorist threat, and saving MI-5.

The Greater Good doesn’t satisfy on the level of MI-5′s best seasons, but for fans of the series who hung around until the end, it’s a solid epilogue. For those who are wondering, other original cast members do return: season ten’s Erin Watts (Lara Pulver) and Callum Reed (Geoffrey Streatfield), and of course good old Malcolm Wynn-Jones (Hugh Simon). But their appearances amount to cameos; in terms of series continuity, the movie leans almost entirely on Pearce. (No offense to Tim McInnerny, who reprises the scheming Oliver Mace with even more snarl and venom than usual.) Since for me MI-5 was always stronger when it focused on the officers, with Pearce as their inscrutable overseer, I was nervous about the dearth of familiar faces. Fortunately, the writers know what they’re doing, and build Pearce’s legacy as a fierce, stubborn survivor into the theme. Meanwhile, the physical action is carried by newcomer Harington, whose Will Holloway, a failed Pearce protege, feels nebulous, to start. Ultimately, the fact that he’s an unknown quantity in the MI-5 universe works in the film’s favor, and is indeed central to narrative strategy. Other new performers that make a solid impression are Jennifer Ehle, as a steely member of MI‑5’s upper echelon, and Sense8′s Tuppence Middleton, as an ambitious junior officer enlisted by Holloway to help .

The film likely won’t stand alone for the uninitiated, but fans will enjoy The Greater Good’s stew of spy genre elements: fights, chases, dead drops, tradecraft, misdirection, surveillance, mole-hunts, hacks, terrorist threats, and life-and-death decisions. But the build-up is merely good; the film is ultimately elevated by its denouement, which speaks to Pearce’s difficult journey through the series—and the viewers’ journey alongside him.

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