Legacy - Spoiler-free review Sherlockabilia Shop Now Open

Legacy - Spoiler-free review * 28 November 2013

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Forming part of the BBC's season of programming examining the Cold War, Legacy is a new ninety-minute standalone drama starring Charlie Cox, Romola Garai and Andrew Scott. Aside from the following synopsis, this reveal is spoiler free.

Set in 1974, we are presented with a Britain marked by rolling strikes and power cuts, with the secret services suspicious that this unionism is being orchestrated by the Soviets. Here we meet Charles Thoroughood (Cox), a new recruit to MI6. Young, idealistic and determined to follow in the footsteps of his father, the young agent's first assignment is to attempt to recruit a former university friend, Viktor Koslov (Scott) to the British side. Instead, in a deadly game of bluff and counter bluff, Koslov - serving in Britain as a Russian diplomat - reveals shocking truths about Charles' family history. And all the while, Thoroughood finds himself drawn to the wife (Garai) of a superior officer.

From its setting, this is a story that unavoidably invites comparison to other, more famous stories set in this era, not least the work of John le Carre and the spectre of George Smiley. Like a story like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, this is a world filled with shades of grey in it's morality, visually a place of browns, yellows and greys, with spies operating from sterile offices of cheap pine desks with frosted glass windows, all infused with cigarette smoke. Spy craft is debated around the dinner table by close knit, almost incestuous groups of people - affairs are rife, and loyalty is in short supply.

In its brisk ninety-minute runtime, Legacy is filled with rattling twists and turns, play after narrative play that defy expectations. An early turn in the plot only twenty minutes into the duration blindsides the viewer, and it only continues to shift along from there. The duration is filled with edgy, handheld camera work, with the audience's sight often blocked by foregrounded objects, making us party to secret meetings and events as if we too are a hidden observer.

Charlie Cox shoulders the role of Charles Thoroughood, effectively imparting the sense that his initially impassioned idealism, fed by the memory of his father, shifts gradually into something more ruthless. His pleasantries can rapidly become threats, all delivered with a smile, and eventually he has no choice but to accept the quiet brutality of the job, a role that can see a murder swept away and hidden from the Police with a single phone call. The rules of law and order not applicable here, a revelation to Charles, but old news to Anna March, played to Romola Garai. Delivering an emotional performance as the wife of one of Thoroughood's superior officers, her desperation and fear at the life she has come to live is mixed with her attraction to the new recruit. Despite this at times explicit vulnerability, Garai imparts the sense Anna is superbly versed in the mind games and machinations of her job, where observation and the sense of smell can be more dangerous weapons than any gun.

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All the while though, there's the latent sense that the pair's employers could more dangerous than the Russians they are working to counter, and nowhere is this duality more obvious than in the performance of Andrew Scott as Koslov. With an immaculate accent and a neatly trimmed beard and moustache, Scott imparts ambiguity, desperation and vulnerability in equal measure. At times, his speech is repressed and monotone, as if reading from a script handed to him by his masters and reluctantly rehearsed and delivered verbatim. He remains distrustful throughout, a lack of eye contact marking out his fearful nature, until eventually his self-imposed repression cracks in one stand out scene. All the while though, both Thoroughood and the audience feel compelled not to trust him, the twisting nature of the narrative leaving an uneasy feeling throughout.

Legacy, then, has many meanings thematically within itself - an operational codename, the relationship between children and parents, and the history of past friendships. Mixed into the setting of the Cold War these elements are a heady brew, the drama racing along in an understated manner befitting the era that it inhabits, and it comes with a strong recommendation from us.

Images are © Slim film+television / BBC.