This review contains spoilers.
Ice cream, chocolate, toffee apples, red wine, beef: the characters continue to obsess over food in Stephen Poliakoff’s Close To The Enemy, pooling coupons and holding dinner parties and bribing small children left, right and centre. The fixation on who has what to eat feels like one of the truly realistic elements of this BBC drama; set in 1946, it’s easy to believe that everyone would be making major decisions based on their stomachs after six long years of rationing.
What’s less easy to believe is what an ongoingly not very good spy our leading character is. Captain Callum Ferguson (Jim Sturgess) continues to give away secrets, disobey orders, and wander off to spend time with his friends. But this episode marked, for me, the moment when the disparate strands of the story so far began to pull together and offer a hint of satisfaction for the viewer, and Callum began to take action in ways that makes him a more interesting character.
The episode begins with the hunt for the child of the German jet engine scientist that Ferguson has been instructed to win over to the British side – she has run away with Callum’s brother Victor (Freddie Highmore) in the search for hot chocolate, and soon they are tracked down to a field in the countryside, and both returned to their rightful places. Victor should be in serious trouble for kidnapping and other charges, but luckily for him the shady yet avuncular figure of government official Mr Lindsay-Jones (Alfred Molina) has a library of books that needs alphabetising, and he offers Victor the job. So disparate characters start to interact more fully, and be drawn together, culminating in a dinner party, of course.
Yet the dialogue never seems to take us anywhere meaningful. The big questions remain over who is not what they appear to be; Callum ends up kissing Rachel Lombard, the new wife of his best friend, in a scene set in a bombed-out cinema – is she a spy out to entrap him? She’s a warm, engaging character, yet it’s still the settings that really capture the attention in these scenes. From the cinema to the aircraft hangar when German scientist Dieter Koehler starts work on designing a plane that can break the sound barrier, with the ubiquitous Connington Hotel still providing lots of shabby glamour, the places command more interest than some of the characters.
Matters aren’t helped by a parade of stereotypical Germans. Captain Ferguson brutally gets rid of one only for another to be introduced, this time faking his own death in the Connington so that he can be whisked off for a new life elsewhere with the help of those high up in British Intelligence. Corruption is everywhere, as Mr Lindsay-Jones has been hinting in an obscure fashion. Is that what lies at the heart of the Connington, and in post-war London? Perhaps we’re beginning to see the emergence of a big theme that will unite all that’s happening.
But, for now, there are more things that don’t make sense than elements that feel rewarding. Nowhere is this more clear than when Callum and Rachel fall for each other in that grand old cinema, sitting in the bombed out upper circle and ducking to avoid the torch of the usherette. The cinema screen shows a black and white film, and the allusion to the wonderful 1940s films of romance and intrigue is clear (also in the score for Close To The Enemy, which gives us plenty of swooping melodrama), but the chemistry is sadly missing here – I don’t buy their sudden infatuation with each other, and Callum still isn’t a leading man in the traditional sense, looking far too laid back and unbothered about his job, his friendships, and his timekeeping.
Still, episode three did end on a burst of action, with a sudden dash off to see if the evil German officer who faked his own death could be brought to justice. Of course, he couldn’t – he was sitting having a laugh with the evil British officer. Callum looked stymied as the two of them laughed evilly. Here’s hoping he finds a way to defeat this widespread rot of values, including his own.
How strange the tone is of Close To The Enemy. It sits between this reflective, slow drama of building tensions and views while injecting moments of very much more typical action: the car chase, the punch-up, the stolen kiss. It’s difficult to make sense of it, but I’m hopeful that some sort of answers are forthcoming. For now, I’ll make do with Callum’s sudden frenzies of action, along with Alfred Molina’s secretive expressions and Freddie Highmore’s outbursts over canned meat and book alphabetisation. Amidst the confusions of tone and meaning, there are still moments to really enjoy.
Read Aliya’s review of the previous episode here.