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The return of spy-fi

27/08/2006. Contributed by Jessica Martin

Buy Spooks in the USA - or Buy Spooks in the UK

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TV series Spooks is back for a fifth, razor-sharp series. Kicking off with an explosive two-part special and introducing some new faces to the team, the spy-fi series bursts back onto the UK's screen for autumn 2006.

A series of sinister terror strikes, combined with chronic fuel shortages, has plunged Britain into crisis. As a chronically weakened Prime Minister fights to hold onto power, the public mood turns increasingly anarchic.

MI5 supremo Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) and team leader Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones) begin to face the horrifying possibility that the country is under attack from sinister forces right at the heart of the establishment. So begins a dangerous game of bluff and counter-bluff.

The growing crisis necessitates that the team work closely with high-flying MI6 officer Ros Myers (Hermione Norris), who soon makes her presence felt on The Grid, instantly generating sparks with Adam. The team is completed by Raza Jaffrey as the unstoppable, head-strong Zafar Younis, Nicola Walker as Ruth Evershed - bright, loyal and dependable - and Miranda Raison as budding-journalist turned spy, Jo Porter.

The series opener also sees Anna Chancellor (Suburban Shootout; Tipping the Velvet) resume her role as Juliet Shaw, National Security Coordinator; with guest appearances from Robert Glenister (Hustle; Class of '76) as the Home Secretary; Lennie James (Snatch) as Bishop David Newman, a disillusioned Government advisor on religious affairs who becomes involved with Christian extremism; and John Castle (Princes in the Tower) as Jocelyn Myers, Ros' father - a wealthy and powerful industrialist who holds the key to the conspiracy.

And series five sees the welcome return of Tim McInnerny (Casanova; Blackadder), resuming his role as Oliver Mace, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and Harry's sometime friend and adversary.

Executive Producer of Spooks, Simon Crawford Collins, is delighted with the new series. He said: "Spooks burst onto our screens for the first time five years ago with energy and a look that made it unlike anything else. The challenge for us has always been to maintain that level of excitement and anticipation for Spooks. Our ambition for each new series is always, 'Last series was great. Now how are we going to make this one even better?' With Spooks series five we hope we have more than achieved that ambition."

Simon believes that much of Spooks' ongoing success is thanks to the excellent writing team. "We have been very fortunate in that we have been able to attract great writers year after year. The quality of the writing is hugely important in order to keep it both fresh and to keep attracting the other essential ingredients of great actors, great directors and great crews. We always seek exciting new talent and the two new writers to the team this year (playwright Zinnie Harris and novelist Neil Cross) have never written for TV before. Their scripts are marvellous and they're already being wooed by other TV companies."

Andrew Woodhead, back to produce his third consecutive series as Producer, agrees that the writing is key: "Like every successful series, it's successful because of the strength of the writing and the quality of the acting," he says. "But also because the stories reflect the world we live in."

Spooks' writers follow the news agendas closely to maintain its topical and hard-hitting edge.

"We are always looking ahead to new political issues," says Simon. "Prescient and topical is what we aim for. We have to make sure the storylines are at the front end of the big political issues of the day. Fortunately the production is fast-moving so we can stay ahead and remain fresh."

When the series launched five years ago, few could have predicted how terrorism would become an everyday fact in all our lives.

"Pre 9/11, spies were wondering what their role was," says Simon. "The Cold War was over and peace was coming to Northern Ireland. 9/11 happened while we were still writing the first series and, of course, it changed everything. The role of the intelligence agencies suddenly became headline news. Now one of our main challenges is not to do endless episodes about Al-Qaeda. Sadly there are now countless other threats that the UK has to contend with, such as environmental issues, financial terrorism and the breeding of our own home-grown terrorists. The irony of it all is that we still find ourselves rejecting well-researched storylines, based entirely on fact, because we feel viewers would find them simply too far-fetched."

"It has always looked like a movie," explains Simon. "Part of the brief was that each episode had to look like a mini-movie and we've maintained that. It's big, bold, slick and stylish. It's the world of Le Carré in the modern era," continues Simon. "Intelligent, attractive people in high-octane situations. We were once criticised because our actors are all too good-looking. But, actually, the majority of spies are good-looking - it helps them to be attractive and charming in order to help them get what they want from people."

Andrew also identifies the strong characterisation as one of the show's key assets: "If there was a section B in MI5, I'd want Harry and Adam to be there. They're heroes. It's exciting, powerful storytelling with three-dimensional heroes. They are not just black and white; they are characters with real complexity and depth."

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