Per Matt
Growing up, Spy vs. Spy was one of my favorite features of MAD magazine. Back in the day, I loved the wily White Spy and the bad-ass Black Spy. Each one seemed to be more familiar with their counterparts than actual family members, a trait necessary whenever dealing with espionage. Later, James Bond showcased Ian Fleming’s suave style, and the spy games were legendary. All of this leads us to the point that gathering intelligence can be a deadly career path, one which can lead you to an unlikely destination, as depicted in A Spy Among Friends.

Broadcast on the premium channel MGM+, this adaptation is based on the nonfiction book of the same name by the New York Times best-selling author Ben Macintyre. This writer should be a familiar name at the network by now, having previously written Rogue Heroes (The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War), which was later adapted as the limited series, SAS: Rogue Heroes.

In this ripped-from-the-headlines show, the story follows MI6 intelligence officer Nicholas Elliot (played by Damian Lewis), who learns that one of his closest friends and allies, Kim Philby (Guy Pearce), has been working as a double agent for the KGB. But what action could possibly push a British spy so far as to turn on his home country and defect to the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War? It’s a painful journey which Elliot must undertake in order to unravel the extreme betrayal in which he suffers. And that journey kind of plays out like a whodunit.

The complex backstory is based on true events, which unravel through a series of time jumps. It is through these flashbacks (and foreshadowing), that the viewer can attempt to figure out the exact moment when Elliot realizes his lifelong friend has jumped into bed with Mother Russia. Looking back, how could such a keen observer of human behavior not have seen it coming? Regardless, Elliot takes the betrayal personally.

Unwrapping the truth takes a lot of subtlety, patience and a decent closed captioning service. Those Brits can sometimes sound foreign to a Southern boy, especially when they’re talking quickly, and their English references fly over your head. There’s not a whole lot of action, which places even more emphasis on the dialogue. But even more is relied upon by reading between the lines from what is not stated.

“The friendship within the British ruling class is built upon an ingrained belief that vitriol among one’s enemy is preordained…”

Prying eyes (and ears) are always nearby. There’s plenty of clandestine actions, and everything’s always hush-hush. At the half-way point, this TV series is intriguing enough that I’m already seeking background information on the non-fiction source material. The European locations look great, and the wardrobe, sets and vehicles are all pristine. For a lead actor, Lewis is very likeable and relatable. He always appears one step ahead of his counterparts (as well as his own agency), so the viewer is constantly left to wonder what he’s up to in every single scene. That’s a lot of acting, which appears effortless.

Americans, Brits, Nazis, Russians and all of their resistance groups are all present and accounted for in this Cold War tale, which brings plenty of international intrigue to A Spy Among Friends, one of the first released programs for MGM+. After the network’s rebranding, its title may be new, but don’t confuse yourself: The network knows dramas.

This heartbreaking story about a traitor in the midst is a good starting point for newcomers to the network. The next show to watch is From, which is one of my favorites!