By coincidence, I have watched the Michael Caine starring 60s film version of The Ipcress File twice in the past few months. The second time because I’d forgotten I’d watched it the first time. It’s not that it’s a forgettable film so much, just that I thought maybe the one I’d seen was Funeral in Berlin. I let it play because, apart from anything, I do enjoy looking at 60-year-old footage of Britain.
I’ve been doing that a lot recently. I’ve been running a Beatles club at school, and several episodes included Pathé and other footage of Carnaby Street, the King’s Road, London fashion shows and so on. I do like this stuff. Apart from anything else, people used to dress so well, didn’t they? That 1966 footage of the King’s Road you find on YouTube: not a single young person wearing grey sweatpants and a hoodie. I absolutely decry the state of dress worn by young people these days. Be More Mod.
And so to the period detail of ITV’s six-part The Ipcress File, which is sort of the same story but not, and stars Joe Cole as a low-key Harry Palmer, not trying to do a Michael Caine impersonation and succeeding. The role of Jean Courtney has been bumped up to provide more for Lucy Boynton to do, although she too does it in a low-key, somewhat affectless way. She is portrayed as a porcelain-skinned English rose who barely changes her expression no matter what is happening, and looks almost airbrushed. Providing gravitas as William Dalby is Tom Hollander, who has played this sort of role before. He was even Guy Burgess once upon a time. Ashley Thomas is Paul Maddox, an anachronistic black CIA officer. Do I care about this? I do not. I believe in colourblind casting, and you could make Harry Palmer black if you wanted to, as far as I am concerned. This is (and always was) a stylised fantasy version of the espionage world, so why not go to town?
Those are the main roles, and the supporting cast is strong. The production design is great, even if you do end up with a kind of cartoon-like version of the early 1960s. The plot concerns a British nuclear scientist who has gone missing, and the attempts of an unnamed agency to track him down. The wilderness of mirrors is present and correct, and nobody can be trusted, apart from the reliably dishonest Palmer, a working class lad knocking heads with the establishment.
Something that impressed me was the way episode two and subsequent episodes began with the usual recap, but in the form of a very stylish title sequence. It’s a very good idea, and I commend the producers for thinking of it. I didn’t mind watching it, even though I was burning through several episodes a night.
It’s all very enjoyable, and I do hope they make more. Funeral in Berlin? Yes, please.