‘Slow Horses’ Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Failure

Mar 31, 2022 · 71 comments
DRC PGH (Pittsburgh)
Terrific, engaging, well-written books by a truly gifted writer; the series was a solid base hit to lead off an inning.
MMB (West Orange)
Too often, television shows progress solely based on keeping the audience and not on a well-executed story line. Slow Horses is intelligent entertainment.
Charlie M. (Shasta/Takelma/Siletz lands (AKA Southern Oregon))
Apple TV execs reading this: Please seriously consider releasing the next seasons/installations all in one go. A week-by-week release with this series feels way too poky - irritating rather than anticipation-building. Everything else about it was incredibly smart and satisfying.
Mark (Chicago)
Good so far, but the underlying plot of a far right group kidnapping and threatening to behead the victim seems far fetched given most terrorism incidents in the UK are Islamist in origin. Even the Met won’t disclose statistics concerning far right extremism, because they don’t have them. https://www.met.police.uk/cy-GB/foi-ai/metropolitan-police/disclosure-2019/december-2019/statistics-far-right-extremism/
John (Northeast)
@Mark Wait, so fictional book and TV plots have to be in accord with actual statistics to not be “far-fetched”? Interesting. What percentage of actual events have to be reached before you are willing to suspend your disbelief? 90%? 51%?
reviewer (Queens, NY)
@Mark My take, too. One more sample of British media's woke obsession. Don't be beastly about Islamist terrorists without invoking (mythical) "far-right" terrorists, too. We don't want to "punch down". Doesn't matter if they haven't been heard from for decades.
Alex (NY York)
@Mark it's farcical. In book 4 there is a terrorist attack on penguins. Lighten up and take the series as it comes. Many contrived terrorist plots in the series are McGuffins to make fun of British politicians.
CitizrnTM (NYC)
I first was suspicious that they could pull off the self-deprecating genre irony and a real thriller feeling without being cynical. So far (5 episodes) they have. But a little disappointed that they resolve too much in the second to last episode in too easy a fashion.
Judith (denver)
This is a great show--I just watched Episode 3. Gary Oldman, as the dyspeptic head, could not be better. His throwaway lines are wonderful and keep you on your toes to avoid missing any.
Gerry O'Brien (Ottawa, Canada)
I thought I was reading a review of my biography as the comic thriller of a retired economist that no one wants to talk about when the only comments delivered my way are creative insults or bitter jokes … then I found out this is all fiction. Geeze.
Pete (NYC)
Loving the first episode!
Bernadette Kenny (Larchmont NY)
Read the books! I read all the books and am really enjoying the series. I do have to explain a lot to my partner who did not read the books. Cast terrific and fit my “picture of them” perfectly.
kilndown flimwell (boston)
Like others, based on the title of the review I was expecting to read a tale of disappointment. But the title captures both the story’s homage to the Le Carre novel and the “failures who aren’t”undertone that seems inherent in the plot. Nicely played. Looking forward to watching the series!
phaeton likeabute (Port Moresby, PNG)
Don't know the novels but will check them out. The Apple episodes show a juvenile affection for sophomoric bathroom humour. Oldman's Lamb is a disgusting slob however sharp his dialogue. The drunken has-been is a stock character we've all seen in many guises over the years. Oldman and K.S. Thomas stooped low for this one.
Fm (Nyc)
I’m enjoying it, but the entire premise of the first episode and River’s supposed incompetence is silly, as there was obviously a full recording of the training episode which, upon review, would have cleared up who made the error in the profile of the target. But anyway, still kind of fun.
CP (Midwest)
@Fm You're assuming that the error is mistaking the description of the suspect. River's error was not doing as he was told after nabbing the wrong man, as he was set up to do.
tombs69 (arlington, va)
I've watched the first two episodes and it's terrific. Oldman's diverse acting ability is amply displayed if you watch him as Smiley in Tinker Tailor and then as Lamb in Slow Horses. The one liner sarcasms are gut splitting funny. This in the trailer soo I'm not spoiling. A scuffle and one of his goof off agents kills a guy. He pleads to Lamb, "I didn't mean to kill him!" Lamb deadpans back "Well of course you didn't. If you had meant to kill him, he'd still be alive."
SK (Los Angeles)
Our introduction to Oldman's character in the first episode is worth the price of admission.
Bobbo (Erie)
Relying very much on the scenery, setting and genre presumptions. The sheer volume of euphemisms in the dialogue should warn off die hard fans... Lecarre had a universe of his own straight out of MI5 reality that people seemed to understand..Lecarre's characters were also multinational and 3 dimensional, these guys are pretty thin British characterizations in comparison. I wouldn't wait around for a "Karla" to show up.
Dejah (Williamsburg, VA)
I was interested until I saw who the writer was. Veep was ugly, cruel, and just UNfunny. I watched the whole series and last seasons were torturous. No matter how good the book is, the scriptwriter is a major turn off. I won't be turning this show on.
Jon Jones (UK)
@Dejah Politics is ugly and cruel.
Susie (NJ)
Another great line from Lamb. "I know you didn't mean to kill him. If you did, he would still be alive". It's a modern series with a very grimy 70's vibe. Well worth a watch.
Corner (Austria)
Honestly, re-read your headlines headline writer. I almost didn't read this because I thought it panned the show.
Scott (Maui)
@Corner Yes, same here. Then I surmised it is the spy who was the failure rather than the show.
SK (Los Angeles)
@Scott Ditto!
James Ferrell (Palo Alto)
Oldman is good, but it's Jack Lowden's River Cartwright that pulls us along.
Dom (London)
I too have been mesmerised by the whole series of Herron's genius creation, hungry for each new book as it is published. It's almost impossible for a much loved and imagined world to find an equally satisfying existence on screen (for me the 1981 full-fat Brideshead Revisited came close with Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Gielgud, Olivier and Diana Quick), so I agree, I anticipated this with much excitement tinged with apprehension. As much as Gary Oldman is truly a great actor, he is not the Jackson Lamb I ever envisaged: is voice is too high, he's too physically slight, he's not scuzzy enough, nor do I think charismatic, larger-than-life, enough despite the character's seediness. I wanted Timothy Spall writ large, in all his grubby glory, a much bigger contrast to the no-hopers under his roof. It must be so difficult to cast such clearly defined characters and it's a great line-up: Kristin Scott-Thomas is absolutely perfect as Lady Di, ditto Jack Lowden and Olivia Cooke, but maybe Roddy Ho could have been more distinctively quirky-objectionable, even in this PC age. But it is most definitely Slough House, and there's plenty of air to breath around the action/non-action. I suspect it's going to be pretty darn good.
Beth (Utah)
We seventy eight year olds love the show but miss a lot of the nuances. Whoever is in charge of subtitles is not doing us any favors. Many flash on the screen for a second or two and are impossible to read. There is plenty of time between each text so they could linger a little longer and actually be useful.
Laurel.Stanford (Carlsbad)
@Beth And sadly, they are often not accurate in an attempt to limit the onscreen text.
kate (VT)
I had been simultaneously highly anticipating and dreading this series, worried it would take these great books and turn them into the usual action based drivel. I had no need to worry. Surprisingly faithful to the book in plot and sensibility. I’m enjoying it immensely and actually glad I have to wait for the next episode. Get to savor each one individually.
J Titzell (Washington DC)
To the series credit, I had read them several years ago but this rendition with Oldman et al is quit evocative of the books’ farcical take on MI5. They just need to utilize more of the humor of the Roddy Ho character. When I used to go to London it was amazing how many Slough jokes the natives used to make
Susanna (United States)
Gary Oldman is an extraordinarily gifted actor…no doubt the best of our (or any) generation. His ‘Winston Churchill’ performance was absolutely stunning… Is Apple TV the only venue for this series?
Jackson (Southern California)
Episode one was terrific -- especially the referenced nine-minute opener. Oldman and company are stellar. I am looking forward to the next five installments.
Tim from LA (Los Angeles)
I am thrilled that Slough House has come to life on Apple TV. Watched the first two episodes on Friday night, and there is much to love in this unholy mash-up of John LeCarré and the British comedy "The Office." One thing the excellent series can't do full justice to is the level of acerbic wit, satire, and snark of Herron's prose. There are non-dialogue one-liners on virtually every page that would be difficult to render on film – but these shows are well worth watching. I have read all of Herron's Slough House novels. They get even better as the series develops; the newest, "Bad Actors," is a marvel.
gillnoero (Saint Louis MO)
@Tim from LA - where, where, where can I get "Bad Actors"? Kindle says it's only coming in May. I can't bear to wait till then. Thank you!
Tim from LA (Los Angeles)
I got an advance copy (lucky me!). It is worth the wait. :)
Greg (Utah)
I enjoy the show and it clearly indicates the difference between Apple tv and Netflix. While Apple focuses on quality, Netflix focuses on quantity. I will gladly wait for a really good show on Apple rather than watch the dribble I find on Netflix. (There are a few exceptions.) Also, Apple tv is a LOT less expensive than Netflix. I long for the days in which Netflix offered decent films by others instead of producing its own mediocre content.
Ben (NYC)
I'll watch Gary Oldman in anything, so this is on the top of my list for April.
geoff (virginia)
Let's get it right for once. Lamb's MI5 is UK's internal security service. George Smiley was a member of UK's MI6/Secret Intelligence Service - the real spies and CIAs British counterparts.
Anna (NYC)
The series is wonderful and Oldman is magnificent as always.
GC (Ponte Vedra Beach, FL)
I suggest a less off-putting headline, like ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Schlemiel.’ Looking forward to watching this.
baba (ganoush)
"Netflix bloat" is a good way to describe what kills good shows. Nice ideas like "Grace and Frankie" or "Mrs. Masiel" (Amazon) are run into the ground. 50 or 60 episodes of some of these kills them.
Dejah (Williamsburg, VA)
@baba Maisel is only 3 seasons old. Season 3 was just as good as the others. Eagerly anticipated. Did not disappoint. You might better raise network darlings like One Tree Hill (been binge watching). Seasons 2, 3, and 4 had clearly jumped the shark and there are NINE seasons of this mess. Teenagers written like they are in their 20s Young twenties who are really 40. It was wish-fulfillment with young hot chicks for over the hill male writers.
Reggie (WA)
I have read, and in some cases re-read, all the novels so far in the Slough House Series. I have also read some other Herron works. The Slough House Series is terrific stuff! Herron's writing is such that one does not need a TV screen to visualize any of the Slough House material; one's mind can get one to anywhere Herron takes one. It is also worth taking a look at the "Deluxe Tenth Anniversary Edition" of "Slow Horses" for a little added insight. As far as this Review goes, it sounds like this is one time in which "television" actually got this one right.
Arthur (Ann Arbor)
Can't wait to watch it. Mick Herron's books are just wonderful.
Susan (Paris)
Saw first two episodes yesterday and hated knowing I’d have to wait ‘till next week for the next. Gary Oldman is perfect as the “master” of this ragtag bunch and every line of gratuitous invective he and Kristen Scott Thomas heap upon them is a gem. The supporting cast of actors is stellar and every grimy detail of the decor of Slough House seems pitch perfect. Great watch!
Gp (PA)
Among the show’s excellent cast, may I sing the praises of Saskia Reeves? I know she’s sort of the poor person’s Emma Thompson, but I’ve loved her in everything from Antonia and Jane (with Imelda Staunton) to…this. Reeves’ entrance into Slough House is hilarious in a low-key way, and I’m curious to learn more about her relationship with Gary Oldman’s Jackson Lamb.
Eileen Ryan (Nyc)
Though I never think of her as the poor man’s Emma Thompson, I do adore Saskia Reeves. She never gets the credit she deserves. Seems everyone recognizes her face.. but no one knows her bloody name!!! Let’s fix that. Not even mentioned in the review!!!!
Marcus (Seattle)
Why have “Failure” in the title? He did like it & I do too. True 6 Ep is too short for a tasty complex plot, but it’s better quality than Apple’s plus & Netflix Bloat. Like “explaining Norway to a dog” is very funny. Try explaining it to an diverse teen.
Moll Flanders (Reno, NV)
“Bringing you up to speed is like trying to explain Norway to a dog.” Thanks for that, I just spit out my tea! Still laughing... for that much needed uplift, I think I'll have to check out this show. And then there's Gary Oldman as the cherry on top.
Positively (4th Street)
"...Gary Oldman stars as an MI5 has-been in a darkly comic thriller about the spies no one wants to talk about." Maybe it wasn't funny.
KM (Maryland)
Cannot rent must subscribe to Apple TV! Bummer…
Enlynn Rock (Virginia)
At the top of the article it says, “Best movies on Netflix.” Not true?
KM (Maryland)
It’s Apple TV but I succumbed - one real bonus is descriptive services. You just adjust the settings so I watched with my blind husband - it’s a great show. Ordered the book on audible too! Thx Apple TV!
Jim (Idaho)
@KM Well, Apple TV is cheap, so...
stillskeptical (Bellevue, WA)
I have read several le Carre books but not this writer. Gary Oldman is a great, and didn’t disappoint in the first episode. I also enjoyed every other actor in this series. I look forward to the next episode.
wjth (Norfolk)
This is a send-up of a send-up, The Le Carre' bitter-sweet portrayal of Britain's MI5, an amateurish spy agency peopled by doubtful patriots. Le Carre' was undoubtedly a patriot but it is unclear whether he liked or admired Americans more than Russians. This is hard for Americans to understand but many of The British Establishment, and Le Carre' was a fully paid up member, disliked and distrusted them.
Call me dense but the word "failure" in the title of this article made me think the show was going to get heavily criticized, whereas it's a very positive review. Tinker Tailer Soldier Success!
Robert Pearson (NYC)
I thought so too! I was so surprised when it seemed to be positive. I kept waiting for the criticism.
@Robert Pearson Me three!
Sandy (Middle Tennessee)
Judging by the 40 (I was one of them), “Recommends”, you weren’t alone! Once I had half a cup of coffee in me, I wondered if it was a rather tortured reference to Oldham’s role of George Smiley in “TTSS”, and the fact that the characters populating Slough House have been deemed “failures”. The article’s sub-title would also suggest this, but I truly hope potential viewers don’t give it a pass after reading just the headline! Husband and I loved it, and “Norway to a dog” elicited a genuine LOL!
KKD (Colorado)
The books are riotous and clever. The casting of Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas ... perfect.
Jim Reiser (Gainesville, Florida)
Thanks so much for this review and the laughs I have only seen one episode, but you just nailed the characters and atmosphere - Keep em coming
Percy41 (Alexandria VA)
Remarkably good. Waiting for the necessarily collapsed episodes meandering through the book will be hard to do, but well worth the effort and impatience. In the meantime, one might wish to revisit the book.
wlsaz (Spokane WA)
Loved the books. Glad to read that the series might live up to the enjoyment (although different) of the books. The casting of Lamb seems challenging and critical. Can't wait to see it! Thanks for bringing attention to this production
Steve Paradis (Flint Michigan)
"He described his most vivid character, Jackson Lamb, perhaps a bit redundantly, as “Timothy Spall gone to seed.” That description--and the acute intelligence behind it-- makes me want to look up one of his novels. (Spall may have been their first casting choice, but he's probably booked through 2040.)
Rob D (Rob D NJ)
I have read every book so far in the series and have loved all of them and cant wait for the next one. I am very pleased that this production has kept close to the novel. Hopefully this will lead to turning the rest of the books into shows as well. They are loads of fun.
common sense (LA)
thank you. the book is so perfect it's uncharacterizable - you're wrong about everything to begin with, and then made as a reader to find that absolutely delightful. None of that high class British stiff upper lip-ness of Smiley, like Henry James characters without interiority, to drag things down. I look forward to seeing it, and, if you haven't, read the book - the first, Slow Horses, is also the best
Midwesterner (Illinois)
I've been racing through the books before the TV series comes out. When books are as amazingly good as these, one fears the TV show might disappoint. But that isn't always the case. Better, I'm sure, if he author was involved. Sorry to opine without reading the article, but I'm spoiler adverse.
Thomas Zaslavsky (Binghamton, N.Y.)
@Midwesterner "Averse". Hope you are right.
Thomas Zaslavsky (Binghamton, N.Y.)
@Thomas Zaslavsky I mean, I hope the tv series is good.