During his MI5 medical exam, Gary Oldman’s scruffy spook Jackson Lamb tells his doctor he’s quit smoking. “Really?!” the doctor says, suspiciously surprised. “Yeah… I haven’t had one for 27 minutes now.” “What about alcohol intake?” the doctor wonders, eyebrow aloft. “Two to three bottles a week.” Not bottles of beer or lager, he implies, but bottles of wine and whiskey. The doctor asks him to get on the treadmill. “You put me on a treadmill, you’ll be done for manslaughter,” Lamb retorts, in his grimy yellow underwear.
Lamb is about as far away from the tuxedo-wearing, Savile Row-tailored James Bond as you can get and yet, he’s the best spy we’ve had on screen for years. This may yet turn out to be the role of Oldman’s life – a high bar in an Oscar-winning career as illustrious as his. Like the lead in some old film noir, Lamb is cunning and clever like a fox, knows every trick in the book and has an in-built bullshit detector that few dare to cross. He’s also hilariously disgusting. This season we see him washing his armpits in a sink with washing-up liquid and weaponising his flatulence in the best way possible: by letting rip a huge fart in a rich person’s Rolls Royce.
Jack Lowden in ‘Slow Horses’ season three. CREDIT: Apple TV+
This is the best season of Slow Horses yet and Oldman’s Lamb is central to this. His character goes front-and-centre when one of the Slow Horse team, Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves), gets kidnapped and from the get-go, the action is thrilling. The opening sequence is a prequel to the story that could easily go toe-to-toe with Bond and Bourne for big-screen cinematic action – and no time is ever wasted. The structure of every episode is meticulously crafted by The Thick of It and Veep’s Will Smith – something he says he learned from Armando Iannucci – and the hour-long episodes fly by. The tight structure works well in a show where every second matters – there’s no superfluous dialogue or scenes – and it makes for a truly gripping watch.
This season has the excellent addition of Gangs of London star Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù whose character, ex-MI5 section chief Sean Donovan, drives the action throughout. He’s a force of nature in the show, as are Kristin Scott Thomas and Sophie Okenedo as the nefarious warring bosses of MI5. Their scenes together on-screen fizz as they reflect on how hard it is for women to succeed in powerful roles like theirs (as a comment on feminism, it’s true and cutting) and their head-to-head scuffles are deliciously venomous and fun to watch.
Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù in ‘Slow Horses’ season three. CREDIT: Apple TV+
The most Bond-like hero of the Slow Horses pack, River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) appears to learn a thing or two this season after his previous misjudgements, not least in his stunning scenes alongside grandfather David (Jonathan Pryce), where a dementia side-storyline adds a rich new emotive depth to the show that was previously lacking. So too does this season’s central theme of authority and incompetence: much could be read as a subversive comment on those in power in the UK right now.
And there are, as ever, some major shocks in the season and these moments (no spoilers!) certainly do shock. But alongside the surprises, action and drama there is much great comedy too. Slimy assistant Roddy Ho (Christopher Chung) is as obnoxious as ever, and the pairing of Shirley (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) and Marcus (Kadiff Kirwan) is emerging into a brilliantly dysfunctional double-act.
The sad thing about Slow Horses is how few people are watching it on Apple TV+ in the UK. Far fewer are subscribed versus the other streaming giants. However, this season could change all that as the buzz around the show becomes impossible to ignore: it’s the best show on TV right now.
‘Slow Horse’ season three streams on Apple TV+ from November 29