IANS Review: ‘The IPCRESS File’: A hard-boiled British espionage thriller
Los Angeles : Set during the Cold War period, this series is a very loose adaptation of Len Deighton’s first spy novel ‘The IPCRESS File’ which was published in 1962. The novel was also the source material for the 1965 released film of the same name, which was directed by Sidney J. Furie and starring Michael Caine. While the basic framework of the story is the same, screenwriter John Hodge and director James Watkins have radically altered the plot and some characters making this series significantly different from the original novel or the film. The series begins on a similar note to that of Furie’s film. Set in West Berlin in 1963, the opening frame focuses on a pair of thick-black-framed glasses lying on a nightstand our hero, Harry Palmer, drowsily turns in bed to notice the woman who has been teaching him German, waving to him saucily from the bathtub.
This opening scene, a direct lift from the film, tries to capture the spirit of the film, but the series has its own soul. The narrative revolves around Harry Palmer, a Korean War veteran now serving the British as an intelligence officer in West Berlin. He gets arrested for developing an illicit network and selling contrabands to the Russians in East Berlin and gets deported to a bleak military prison in Colchester. But when Professor Dawson (Matthew Steer), one of the leading British nuclear scientists goes missing from Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, William Dalby (Tom Hollander), director of an enigmatic undercover outfit, recruits Palmer to rescue Dawson. That is because he has been kidnapped by one of Palmer’s contacts. How Palmer, against all odds, makes it his mission to track down his contact and save Dawson forms the crux of the narrative.
With his thick-framed glasses and nerdy boy-next-door-look, Joe Cole- makes an intriguing spy. With his offbeat demeanour, he takes us on an exciting journey that keeps you hooked to the very end. His prompt knee-jerking action sequences definitely take you by surprise. He is aptly supported by Lucy Boynton, who plays his colleague Jean Courtney to perfection. With her exquisitely styled blond tuft, she is no bimbette. She has her journey that gives the series a feminine heart. Courtney in the series is a prominent character compared to the one in the film. The rest of the supporting cast, including Tom Hollander, is all-natural and sincere in their performances and are all affable. On the production front, the series is painstakingly mounted. The era is lavishly portrayed and the sepia-toned frames capture the brilliant period effortlessly. Somewhere towards the end of the series, there is one minor but glaring error, wherein a day shot, the character on screen profusely apologises over the phone for calling so late at night. Else, the series is blemish-free. Overall, this series is a hard-boiled British espionage thriller that will appeal to those who love the genre.