Critical Condition: The Secret Agent

The Secret Agent (SoHo, 8.30 Monday/encore, 9.30 Sunday)

“The BBC can’t seem to leave The Secret Agent alone — it’s commissioned four adaptations of Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel about the social and psychological underpinnings of a bomb attack. That probably says less about Conrad than it does about the continuing relevance of terrorism as a subject for fictional examination … What this presentation has to say about contemporary terrorism is less clear. The screenwriter, Tony Marchant, keeps the main incidents of Conrad’s plot but lays them out chronologically, losing the revelations and shadings of the novel’s flashbacks and flash-forwards. This goes along with a general literalness and glumness — little of the satire and humour of the novel has seeped into the mini-series.” — New York Times.

“If you’ve found yourself caught up in BBC hits Peaky Blinders and The Night Manager and are looking for your new favourite show, here it is. The Secret Agent is a new treat here to brighten (or, rather, darken) the next three [Monday] evenings with a stellar cast, tension-ratcheting plot, and a surprising contemporary relevance.” — Evening Standard.

“Tony Marchant’s adaptation of Conrad’s The Secret Agent has been one of the bleakest, murkiest and most disturbing dramas we’ve had this year. That the BBC chose to air it in high summer – the TV equivalent of a good time to bury bad news – indicates how unconvinced they were of its appeal. The ponderous and leadenly gloomy conclusion symbolised why viewers have stayed away in droves, despite the fine acting at its heart and multiple terrorist incidents giving the drama an added, albeit unwelcome, topicality.” — The Telegraph.

“It has absolutely everything going for it apart from – how to put this? – giving us any reason to watch? I’ve paired socks and found it more compelling … There was no pace, no tension, no suspense, no soul. It was one tediously dry scene after another, while the sets looked as if they’d been imported from Doctor Who, and the street scenes used the same extras over and over. ” — Daily Mail.

So much is lost from Conrad’s strange, complex and deeply ironic novel. This adaptation reduces it to a psychological thriller – and proves the curse of TV … All the time you can hear the programme-makers saying: ‘We really have to liven this up a bit’ … I’ve only seen the first episode, but I worry for the one-dimensionality of the series.” — The Guardian.

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