Spring binge watch: The Worricker Trilogy

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This is a pleasant trio of 90 minute films centered around the character of Johnny Worricker, late middle aged MI5 executive.  He gets trotted through various anti-James Bond scenarios with a worried frown and a slight grin on his face at all times.  It is shot beautifully and acted fairly well.  It is somewhat implausible and trots out many tropes of English upper-class bureaucratic life:

  • How to make a proper salad
  • A bitchy and foul-mouthed meeting in a conference room of senior politicians
  • An MI5 secretary in a burqa
  • Hiking up four flights of stairs in #10 Downing St
  • Meetings at various posh country houses
  • Train riding
  • Wine buying
  • A posh art opening
  • Driving on the wrong side of the street
  • Meeting in basement rooms, presumably unbugged
  • Oxford high table with dinner jackets, robes and undergraduates below the dais

I found it quite enjoyable if frustrating at times.  In short, utterly Masterpiece Theatre.

The second part of the trilogy was the one I wanted to like the most.  It features Christopher Walken in a Caribbean island plot,

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along with the mean grumpy divorce lawyer from The Good Wife, sporting a large burn or birthmark made up on his face to add to his sourpuss qualities, along with one other Good Wife regular.

The episode also features an unrecognizable Winona Ryder, doing an extremely good impression of crazy person.  This just goes by way of illustrating how important casting is, because the character in the film is that of a crazy person.  Since I remember only the pre-shoplifting gamine Winona, I did not recognize her in this film until after a double-take at the credits and a rewind.  Winona’s done some hard time, and it shows, but this made her a pretty good casting choice for the role.  But, I hate to say, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether she’s acting crazy or just being crazy or just a crazy person trying to act like an actor acting crazy, and to that extent, willing suspension of disbelief becomes somewhat muddied.

Chrisopher Walken was cast in character as an elderly, paunchy man who does an extremely good Christopher Walken impression.  Every vocal tic and gimmick that screams Christopher Walken was gotten out of the actual Christopher Walken.  It made me uncomfortable the whole time, because he was playing Gangstery Christopher and hanging out with gangstery characters, but he was supposed to be some kind of CIA officer, and the whole mishegoss was just not believable.  I kept wanting to like it more,  but willing suspension of disbelief just would not come, and I found myself on the outside looking in the whole time, distracted from the plot by the hope that Christopher Walken would stop playing himself playing Christopher Walken, and would just relax for a few minutes and play the character.

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This sense was heightened somewhat by the two add-ons to the trilogy, a pair of documentaries between episodes, in which the director and cast congratulated themselves and each other on just what an extreme privilege it was to be able to perform with such important, talented and accomplished people as each other.  These documentary interludes were a bore and did not do much to enlighten the stories.  This was not such a great loss, because the stories themselves were boilerplate spy movie tropes pulled out of a mechanical plot generating device.  What saved the episodes was not the plots or dialog but rather the actors, sets, settings and photography and music.  In other words, everything but the plot.  To the extent that I would have to say that the plot was a shaggy store serving as a context and binder for a tone poem about the characters themselves.  Not the destination but the journey, that kind of thing.

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