REVIEW: Slow Horses (Seasons 1 &2) streaming on Apple+

R. B. Wood

Former technologist, world traveler, & storyteller.

4 5 StarRating
4.5 out of 5

Based on Mick Herron’s “Slough House” book series.

Rated: TV-MA

Starring: Gary Oldman (Jackson Lamb), Jack Lowden (River Cartwright), Kristen Scot Thomas (Second Desk Diana Taverner), Saskia Reeves (Catherine Standish) and an additional cast of delicious characters.

I’ve heard that Mick Herron has been equated to a modern-day Ian Fleming, comparing the latter’s James Bond books to the former’s series of MI-5 misfits. If anything, the series is the antithesis of James Bond—and the stories and characters are richer for the experience.

The Apple Plus series is a visual masterpiece and the pacing more than makes up for the books tendency to become bogged down in details that, in my not-so-humble-opinion aren’t needed.

Each of the first two seasons is named after the first two books in the series (Slow Horses and Dead Lions) and follows the disheveled, alcoholic, chain-smoking, and rather disgusting Jackson Lamb (Oldman) and his Slough House division of MI5 (The British Security Service) misfits.

Season One opens with a very action-oriented scene that sets the stage for the series. We are first introduced to an up-and-coming agent by the name of River Cartwright who…makes a career altering mistake, landing him under the disapproving and abusive eye of Lamb. I would equate Lamb’s character to that of Hugh Laurie’s Gregory House character—but Lamb is worse—way worse than House.

Political intrigue descends upon Slough House as the team of MI5 misfits (this season rounded out by Saskia Reeves, Rosalind Eleazer, Christopher Chung (who plays Roddy perfectly) and Dustin-Demri-Burns step up to solve a kidnapping case with political and international ramifications.

The Second season finds the team again fighting the politics of the MI5 Regent Park HQ along with personal agendas that have dire consequences for some.

The season long stories are tightly scripted. The Characters—especial Oldman, Reeves and Lowden, are brought to life in a way better than I’d imagined when reading the novels, the first time around. Gary Oldman sells Jackson Lamb. Even when the stories ebb a bit (as they do in both seasons occasionally), Oldman’s performance is a delight to behold, and his delivery (and outrageous accent) made me laugh out loud more than once.

A few of the villains of the series are a bit over the top (Freddie Fox’s James ‘Spider’ Webb for one). Samuel West as the conservative right-wing MP (and Home Secretary in season two) was brilliant in the first season, and a smarmy git in the second. I knocked off a half star for those quibbles.

But there is a reason that season’s three and four have been green lit by Apple already. Overall Slow Horses is a well written romp of a spy series. So, if you like your spy thrillers with a side of snark, and with twists that are surprising, I think you should give this one a go. I, for one, can’t wait to see Gary Oldman run more rings around the intelligence establishment in future seasons.