Legacy: Despite some great performances this Cold War drama left me feeling cold

by | Nov 28, 2013 | All, Reviews

To me at least spying dramas fall into two categories. One is the high-octane explosion-packed shows such as Spooks while the other are quieter efforts such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. BBC2’s Legacy definitely fell into the latter category as it captured a bleak time where spying was seen as a life-threatening occupation rather than one that was incredibly glamorous.

Legacy set itself up as being bleak right from the off-set with a visual telling us the drama is set during the unrest of 1974; a time known for its power-cuts, three day weeks and rising inflation. We are soon introduced to our hero Charles Thoroughgood (Charlie Cox) who is undergoing some sort of spying mission when we first meet him. In fact, as we soon learn, Charles is on a training exercise for MI6 and hopes to become a spy following a successful career as part of the Royal Engineers in Belfast. Charles is soon called into action as the MI6 has his former university acquaintance Viktor Kozlov (Andrew Scott) under surveillance. Under instructions from his bosses Hookey (Simon Russell Beale) and Hugo (Christian McKay) he is forced to reintroduce himself to Viktor and later attempt to turn him. As a way of getting to Viktor, Charles uses Eva Pym (Olivia Grant) a prostitute who Viktor has been seeing on a regular basis. Eva’s information does pay off as Charles gets some sort of idea why Viktor is in the country. But Viktor soon turns the tables on Charles by telling him that his surveyor father was in fact an undercover agent for the KGB. This news shocks Charles as he tries to re-evaluate his life and when Viktor asks for his help he has to decide what side he’s on.

Playing alongside Charles’ personal struggles is a love story of sorts as Charles is drawn to Anna March (Romala Gari). Charles first meets Anna on his training exercise and instantly falls for her but is heartbroken when he discovers she is married to Hugo. Throughout the piece, Anna is the one bright spot in Charles’ life and comforts him after he learns the truth about his father. He later believes that he might have a shot with her after seeing that Hugo is cheating on her with another woman. But, after almost getting together, Anna tells Charles that she’s no good for him and that their liaison just wouldn’t end well. Despite them later pretending to be a married couple whilst on a mission together, it appears as if Anna wants to keep her family together rather than beginning a doomed affair with a jaded young spy.

The first thing to say about Legacy is that it’s superbly acted by a rather impressive ensemble cast. Andrew Scott is the standout here for me in what I would consider his most sympathetic performance to date. Despite playing a Russian spy, Scott really makes you feel for Viktor’s situation and in particular his fear that he’ll never see his family again. Scott is such a great actor that you don’t feel you’re watching Moriarty from Sherlock plus his Russian accent is pretty convincing as well. In the lead role of Charles, Charlie Cox is adept at playing the likeable everyman. I did feel that the charming Cox struggled to portray Charles’ inner turmoil, following the discoveries about his father, but I still found him a compelling screen presence. In addition there were a number of great supporting performances most notably from Simon Russell Beale and Christian McKay. Legacy is also a well-directed piece with Pete Travis presenting a rather bleak world of spying as he captures the drab world of the MI6 offices. Travis is at his best when capturing the drama’s set pieces most notably the opening training exercise as well as the programme’s most emotional scene which follows Charles’ return to his family home.

Where Legacy falls down is in its scripting and its presentation of the plot in general. I’m not sure how much of the blame for the plotting can be given to Paula Milne as she was adapting a book by Alan Judd. While Milne is able to create some interesting sequences I found the story dragged in places and there were several unbelievable elements. My main gripe was that there were really no characters to identify with and therefore the whole drama left me feeling cold. Similarly the supposed romantic plot between Charles and Anna really didn’t go anywhere and seemed to me like a subplot that was only there to fill a bit of time. Indeed the character of Anna was woefully underwritten and I believe that an actress of Romola Gari’s abilities deserves a lot more than what she was given. The drama dragged so much that at times I found myself tuning out completely which is a shame as the majority of the cast were giving superb performances.

I have now watched Legacy twice and both times I was left feeling incredibly underwhelmed. Despite some great performances, most notably from Scott, the drama is over long and I ultimately failed to care about any of the characters. I do feel that there is an audience for a low key spying drama but unfortunately Legacy isn’t that programme. 

Matt Donnelly

Matt Donnelly


Made in Staffordshire, Matt is the co-editor of the site and co-host of The Custard TV Podcast. Matt has been writing about TV for over fifteen years and has written for the site for almost a decade. He's just realised this makes him a lot older than he thought he was.


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