A Spy Among Friends (ITVX)

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Week 49 2022 : Sat 03 Dec - Fri 09 Dec

Sat 14 Jan 2023

A Spy Among Friends

Full series drop on ITVX on Thursday 8 December.

Series overview:

Hotly anticipated cold war drama A Spy Among Friends is a series based on the New York Times best-selling book written by Ben Macintyre. In collaboration with Sony Pictures Television, ITV Studios and Veritas Entertainment Group, the series produced in the UK stars Golden Globe® and Emmy® Award-winning actor, Damian Lewis (Homeland, Billions) and Emmy® Award-winner, Guy Pearce (Jack Irish, Mare of Easttown). Lewis will also serve as executive producer.

The six-episode series dramatises the true story of Nicholas Elliott and Kim Philby, two British spies and lifelong friends. Philby was the most notorious British defector and Soviet double agent in history. This is a story of intimate duplicity; of loyalty, trust and treachery. Philby’s deeply personal betrayal, uncovered at the height of the Cold War, resulted in the gutting of British and American Intelligence.

From the producers of Homeland, this espionage thriller dramatises the illustrious, and true story, set at the height of the Cold War, of Nicholas Elliott (Lewis) and Kim Philby (Pearce) — two spies and lifelong friends, one of whom  was betraying the other all along.

Alongside Pearce and Lewis, cast members include Anna Maxwell Martin (“Motherland,” “Line of Duty”), Adrian Edmondson (“Back to Life,” “The Pact”) and Stephen Kunken (“Billions,” “The Handmaid’s Tale”).

Episode 1: Boom-ooh-yatatatah

In the wake of Kim Philby’s escape to Moscow, his closest friend in Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI6.), Nicholas Elliott, is under investigation by Mrs. Lily Thomas from the Security Service (MI5): Did he facilitate Philby’s escape because he’s also a traitor working for the Russians, or is it just that his judgement was clouded at a critical moment by their twenty-three year friendship? Or maybe, just maybe, he in fact had the last laugh having manipulated Philby to run to the bosom of the KGB for foreign intelligence purposes.

Episode 2: The Admiral’s Glass

Lily Thomas understands that Elliott is never going to divulge anything of value about what actually happened in Beirut in a conventional interrogation process. She detects in him a shrewd intelligence officer sitting on a secret while also doing his best to manage the emotional fallout from Philby’s betrayal of their friendship. Understanding that if Elliott has returned from Beirut with any intelligence of worth, Lily realizes that he needs to be out in the world acting upon it; so she uses her psychological skills as a debriefer to steer him in a direction that she believes will shed more light on why he let Philby run to Moscow.

Episode 3: Allegory Of The Catholic Faith

Philby begins to understand that the KGB can never fully trust him now that he’s in Moscow and as far as they’re concerned his life as a spy for them is over. He is, however, in covert contact with his old friend James Jesus Angleton of the CIA, with whom he appears to be engaged in a long-term intelligence operation to infiltrate the KGB. In London, Elliott alerts Sir Anthony Blunt, cousin of the Queen and curator of her art collection, that his cover as a Soviet penetration agent has been blown. Lily realizes that maybe in exchange for his life, Philby armed Elliott with the secret about Blunt. But she also learns that the CIA and, notably, James Jesus Angleton, are also onto Blunt, which would rob Elliott of the value of the intelligence Philby gave him.

Episode 4: Vodka

Elliott rattles Blunt’s cage to make him panic. Elliott and Lily, now working together since she alerted him that the CIA were about to step on his toes, follow Blunt to a clandestine meeting in the middle of the night with none other than Sir Roger Hollis, Director General of MI5 and Lily’s boss. The nature of Blunt and Hollis’s tradecraft indicate that if Blunt is working for the Soviets, then so is Hollis.

In Moscow, Angleton’s CIA field agents are led into a trap by Philby and killed by the KGB. Philby used them, and Angleton, to prove that he is still very useful to the KGB.

Episdoe 5: Tea Time

If Sir Roger Hollis is working for the Soviets, Elliott and Lily now have to assume that no one can be trusted. They must get to Blunt before anyone else to interrogate him and confirm their suspicions about Hollis. But when Angleton hears of the death of his two agents in Moscow, the penny drops that he’s been played by his old friend Philby. In urgent need of a face-saving intelligence coup of his own, Angleton arranges for the apprehension and rendition of Blunt to a CIA safe house. But Elliott and Lily, one step ahead, retrieve Blunt before it’s too late and send Angleton back to America, with the friendly advice that he do everything he can to destroy all evidence of what Philby has done to him.

Episode 6: No Man’s Land

Elliott’s four day debrief of Philby in Beirut (that we have flashed back to throughout the series) ends with a painful personal truth for Elliott, rooted in his long and close friendship with Kim. Their final confrontation reveals the complex emotional reasons why Elliott let Philby escape.

Lily has forced him to remember more than he perhaps ever wanted to about Philby, but in doing so he’s inclined to agree with her that he and men of his and Philby’s privilege and class are the real danger to England (and America), more than any one man. Then there’s Angleton, and how he has been infected by Philby to never trust any of his friends and colleagues again — an infection that will surely spread through the CIA and could even destroy it from within. So, informed by how Philby played Angleton, Elliott and Lily understand that their suspicions of Hollis are a construct of the now invisible hand of Philby and must therefore be questioned and treated with caution, if not dismissed entirely before they cripple British Intelligence.

Several months later, Philby sends Elliott a letter asking for a meeting to bury the hatchet in an East Berlin bar. At Christmas that year (1963) Elliott travels to East Berlin, not to be sucked into another game of friendship, but to return an umbrella — which he has always treasured — that Philby once gave him in gratitude for his loyalty and friendship. And Lily is invited to join the Intelligence Service, while the Soviet Union launches the first — and, to this date, last — solo woman pilot into space.



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