‘It’s very freeing to play a character who doesn’t give a hoot’

Lowden laughs at that appraisal: “That’s one of the best reviews I’ve ever heard! They ought to put that on the poster.” Justifiably acclaimed for his skill at disappearing into his roles, Oldman didn’t resile from going the full Lamb from nicotine-stained fingers to retaining the paunch he’d developed for his role in mank. “It’s very freeing to play a character who doesn’t give a hoot,” he says.


For Lowden (small axis, War & Peace), working with Oldman was a gift and an honour. “I wasn’t unaware of the fact that to be given the opportunity to play opposite Gary, one of the greatest actors that has ever been, in a scene, let alone six episodes, is something that every actor of my generation would’ve given their right arm for. I felt a huge responsibility to soak up as much as I could. And just getting to watch him work, in rehearsals, working things out, was almost more interesting than watching the final performance.”

To which Oldman quips, “I’ve always been pretty good in rehearsals”, and Lowden responds, “Yeah, your rehearsal is my end performance.”

“That’s very sweet,” Oldman murmurs, adding gracefully, “I’d seen this guy on stage, so I knew what I was in for.”

As for the mission at Slough House, Oldman says, “Lamb’s intention is to make it bone-crushingly boring. MI5 doesn’t want lawsuits, they don’t want arbitration. That’s why people get moved; they don’t get fired. They’re dumped at Slough House and the object is to make it so uninteresting that they quit.”

Slough House is not in Slough. The derogatory nickname emanates from “The Park”, the shinier Regent’s Park headquarters of “Five”. Those in the London command center regard the unprepossessing associated office, which is geographically proximate, as so remote from meaningful activity that it might as well be in the undesirable town 20 miles west. Equally derisively, its employees are known as slow horses.

Kristin Scott Thomas has “Lady Di” (Diana Taverner), MI5’s cool but formidable MI5 boss.Credit:Jack English

Among the beautifully-cast rejects despondently serving time are Lamb’s downtrodden assistant, Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves), opportunistic and abrasive IT wiz Roddy Ho (Australian Christopher Chung), hapless Min Harper (Dustin Demri-Burns), frustrated Louisa Guy (Rosalind Eleazar ), irritatingly cheery Struan Loy (Paul Higgins) and bullish Jed Moody (Steve Waddington). The team also includes Sid Baker (Olivia Cooke), who’s such a proficient agent that no one knows what she’s doing there.

“Mick Herron came up with the world and it’s a fantastic invention,” says Oldman. “We think of it as a character piece. The plot, in a way, is mechanical and takes care of itself, although Mick is also very good with plot.”

Lowden agrees: “To put those characters in that world, where people are used to seeing slick, cool, mysterious, it’s a genius idea.”

In the first series – a second, dead lions, has already been shot – they become involved, largely at the initiative of Cartwright and against orders from Lamb, in a hostage case. A Pakistani-English university student and aspiring comedian (Antonio Aakeel) is kidnapped and his attackers are threatening to behead him. As Lady Di and her underlings endeavor to track down the kidnappers, the slow horses also find themselves in hot pursuit.

The “slow horses” of MI5.

The “slow horses” of MI5.

Skilfully adapted from Herron’s novel by Will Smith (The Thick of It, Veep), the series sparkles with wit as it gleefully toys with the conventions of the genre and conjures up a winning bunch of crackpots.

Slow Horses is on Apple TV+.

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