Unveiling covert assassinations, government cover-ups, military skullduggery, and counter-counterintelligence is all in a day's work for Mr. Palfrey of Westminster
, who's part of what could be called the Internal Affairs wing of Britain's intelligence department. Played by the superb Alec McCowen (who also appeared in Frenzy
, Travels with My Aunt
, and Gangs of New York
), Palfrey is dapper, capricious, fussy, and combative with his superiors when he doesn't get his way--but above all cunning. The great gift that McCowen brings to the role is his ability to listen; while Palfrey is patiently letting someone talk, you can practically see the clicking circuits and whirling gears in his brain, turning what could be a banal conversation into a surprisingly taut bit of suspense. In structure, the show is a detective series: Palfrey gets an assignment from the Coordinator (Caroline Blakiston, playing a sort of Margaret Thatcher in miniature) and sets to work with his assistant, Blair (Clive Wood), and secretary, Caroline (Briony McRoberts), sifting through the details and asking innocuous questions until everything falls into place. As the nine episodes of this series are from the 1980s, it's almost entirely about the Cold War, with defectors who may or may not be genuine and double agents who may or may not be passing on intelligence that may or may not be important. Half the time, it's not who or what that gets uncovered so much as why, as Palfrey blows away smokescreens and clouds of confusion. The scripts are brisk and efficient, sometimes startlingly so, yet they never lose sight of the mundanity and doggedness of most intelligence work. It's a fascinating series, particularly for fans of Graham Greene (Our Man in Havana
) and John le Carré (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
). --Bret Fetzer
"Cleverly written adventures … absorbing viewing" --Daily Star (U.K.)
"Polished and realistic" --Daily Mail (U.K.)
He describes himself as "just a civil servant." But in the cloak-and-dagger world of the British security services, mild-mannered Mr. Palfrey (Golden Globe® nominee Alec McCowen, Travels with My Aunt) is an invaluable player in the spy game. A master of counterespionage and a spy-catcher extraordinaire, he’s smart, discreet, cunning--and likes to do things his own way.
His new boss quickly realizes the talents and the dangers of the deceptively charming, utterly ruthless Palfrey. Known simply as "the Coordinator" and splendidly played by Caroline Blakiston (Brass, Scoop), she appoints an assistant (Clive Wood, Pillars of the Earth) to work with Palfrey but report back to her. As always, however, Palfrey has his own ideas.
"Alec McCowen plays [Palfrey] to perfection" (The Times, U.K.) in this stylish British spy series seen on public television and featuring guest appearances by Julian Glover (The Young Victoria), Leslie Phillips (Chancer), Richard Johnson (The Camomile Lawn), and Deborah Grant (Bergerac).