The Ipcress File review: Joe Cole makes for a gritty Harry Palmer in a vintage spy thriller set in a world before the 60s really started to swing

If you remember the 60s, they say, you probably weren’t there. As it happens, I wasn’t – I’m far too young – but the way the boomers go on you’d think it was like a second renaissance, with miniskirts and mind-expanding drugs.

By Philip Cunnington
Friday, 11th March 2022, 5:19 pm

If you swallow the line that the 60s were the decade of free love and free thinking, you have to assume the makers of The Ipcress File (ITV, Sun, 9pm) are Generation X-ers as well.

A new adaptation of Len Deighton’s spy novel – the first to feature Harry Palmer, whose horn-rimmed specs and laconic one-liners became icons of a newly-fluid society when Michael Caine first appeared in the role in 1965 – this was very much set in that moment before the 60s started to swing.

West Berlin and London are still pock-marked with bomb sites, and the Cold War-ravaged economies of Europe mean our anti-hero Harry (Joe Cole) is first seen fleeing from the military police as they bust open his bootlegging operation.

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Meanwhile, upper crust spy Jean (Lucy Boynton) is desperate to avoid the gilded cage of marriage to her wealthy fiance, in favour of spook-related wranglings with a friendly CIA operative.

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It still has some proto-60s touches, like Avengers-style tilted camerawork, and production design, from the typewriters to the Routemaster buses, is gorgeous.

But this is the 60s reimagined as gritty, slightly down-at-heel, with our rough Cockney spy Harry more acclimatised to the impending social revolution than his upper crust bosses.

This Ipcress File has a vintage feel, but a modern sensibility, and is one slice of the 60s you’ll remember, young or old.

While ITV have a hit on their hands with The Ipcress File, the same could certainly not be said of Our House (ITV, Mon-Thurs, 9pm). This domestic thriller had a high concept opening – what would you did if you came home and found someone else moving into your house? – but absolutely nothing else. Overwrought, overlong, over and out.

The Witchfinder (BBC2, Tues, 10pm) is from the team behind Alan Partridge’s latest renaissance, and features Tim Key as a 17th century witchfinder and Daisy May Cooper as the unmarried woman he claims to be a sorcerer. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but shot through with enough absurdity to amuse.