“Slow Horses” (2022) Gary Oldman, left, and Jack Lowden in episode Failure’s Contagious. IMDb photo

The impressible John le Carre gave us a host of spies in his famous novels.

Always my favorite would be Alec Leamas from “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” who said, “What do you think spies are: priests, saints and martyrs? They’re a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors, too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives.”

There were others like George Smiley of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” who well played by the gifted Gary Oldman almost echoes those lines in his new show “Slow Horses.”

Now, streaming on Apple TV+ Oldman is back, as the deliciously squalid Jackson Lamb, a disheveled, functioning drunkard, hiding behind drug store glasses and clouds of cigarette smoke.

But don’t dismiss him, or they’ll never find your body.

Lamb is Smiley unearthed, damaged from his fall, but held together by a code none of us will ever understand.


The impeccable Kristin Scott Thomas (“The English Patient”) is here as his boss Diana Tavener, head of operations, walking in the old shoes of James Bond’s “M.” (Judi Dench). She and Jackson have an interesting back story that will unfold slowly.

“Slow Horses” was written by Will Smith (not infamous Hollywood actor) from the novel by Mick Herron, and directed by James Hawes (“Black Mirror.”)

The title is the way the players pronounce “Slough House,” a kind of purgatory for MI5 agents who have screwed up, and, as if they were in school, are sent to Slough House, and are punished by given dreary, gutter jobs like cleaning toilets, taking out trash, and spending their days filing and re-filing meaningless reports. We learn more of each one, chapter by chapter.

All of these miscreants bend under the whip of their keeper, Jackson Lamb, the series’ real hero.

This class of befuddled blokes, because of classified regulations, can’t just be flushed down the royal toilet. Lamb, it seems, just expects them to get so bored they’ll quit.

“Slow Horses” begins with a teeth-rattling, breath-holding hunt and chase episode in a London airport where a group of agents are trying to find and stop a terrorist bomber from boarding a plane.


That’s all we can tell you. You’ll have to live through it and sort out the misinformation they’re working on. I can tell you the chase and grab stuff in this segment is the best I’ve seen since Steve McQueen’s airport chase in “Bullitt.”

The lead agent here is our series “good guy,” handsome, bright, of course, Jack Lowden as “River Cartwright,” whose grandfather is David Cartwright, a retired MI5 legend.

Luckily for us, David is played by the indispensable Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes.”)

“Slow Horses” is billed as a “serious comedy,” but unless you’re British and a devoted reader of le Carre’s work, you won’t see the comedy floating around the edges of some serious bloodletting.

There must be a woman here somewhere, and there are a few, but the fabulous Kristin Scott Thomas has been hired to take your breath away.

If you’re a true movie fan, you’ll surely see the misfits of Slough House as a British slice of John Hughes 1985 “The Breakfast Club.”

“Slow Horses” is the sort of fun the British do so well, and the gang of swells is here doing it.

“Slow Horses” streams every Friday on Apple TV+.

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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