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Arts & Culture

Mick Herron's 'Slow Horses' arrives on AppleTV+

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Apple Original
Gary Oldman plays Jackson Lamb in the new Apple Original series "Slow Horses," based on Mick Herron's acclaimed spy novel.

The new British spies series "Slow Horses" drops on AppleTV+ Friday. It's an intense, character-driven thriller laced with dark humor.

Mick Herron's 'Slow Horses' arrives on AppleTV+

You won’t find "Slow Horses" in cinemas, but it’s absolutely cinematic. The new Apple Original show brings Mick Herron’s book to vivid life and delivers a British spy story but with a twist.

"These are the screwups," "Slow Horses" director James Hawes said. "They're about as far away from James Bond and Jason Bourne as you could imagine them to be."

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Apple Original
Olivia Cooke and Jack Lowden play two of the disgraced agents in the spy thriller "Slow Horses."

Screwups like River Cartwright, played by Jack Lowden, who gets sent to Slough House where the agents are derogatorily referred to as “slow horses.”

"They are a group of agents who have made mistakes, and they're very difficult to fire because they are civil servants, essentially. They're deadweight. They're an embarrassment to the service," Lowden said. "So they are thrown in this office block right at the very bottom of the service, doing all the things that nobody wants to do, all the menial tasks. And it's to sort of encourage them to leave."

Hawes admitted: "It doesn't sound that beguiling, but there is such charm and character and accessibility to these characters that these are the guys you really want to hang with."

Characters such as Gary Oldman’s boozing, farting Jackson Lamb who oversees the misfit slow horses and enjoys pushing their buttons.

"He knows who he's getting," Oldman said. "When they come in, I know who's going to stay, who's got the stomach for it. I can imagine going down the list and thinking: 'Yeah, give him to me. I'll give him six months — he'll be gone. No, she won't last. I could drive her absolutely mad. I give that six weeks and she should be gone.'"

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At one point, Lamb gathers his team and tells them: "I don't normally do these kind of speeches, but this feels like a big moment. Working with you has been the lowest point in a disappointing career."

Lamb’s abusive approach is like another form of training or testing or perhaps torture for these slow horses. It also reveals his character.

"He's a guy who uses his own humor as a weapon to destabilize people that he is negotiating with," Hawes said. "He doesn't need to turn up armed to the teeth with some conventional sidearm. He can do it by just unsettling people who expect a certain way of behavior. And then he meets them with something completely different."

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Apple Original
Kristin Scott Thomas plays Diana Taverner in "Slow Horses."

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Lamb’s boss, Diana Taverner.

"Tension and humor go absolutely hand in hand," she said. "Because, if you make somebody feel relaxed and you give them a laugh, then you really can astonish them with something else afterwards. It's sort of almost hitting below the belt, really."

Hawes confessed to being scared by Herron's shifting tones, but also thrilled to tackle it.

"People die. There's blood on the pavements, and yet on a dime the story and the mood and the scene changes and you're laughing about Lamb's flatulence," Hawes said. "All the humor comes from character. As long as the characters are rooted and real and you believe them in the world, I think there's a lot more space to move. We needed to be sure that we kept the idea of these guys as spies real, and then we could let the humor live alongside."

"Slow Horses" is the first, but hopefully not the last, of Herron’s novels to be adapted to the small screen. Because, once you meet these ragtag characters, you’ll want to hang out with them a lot more.

The full interviews are available on a bonus episode of Cinema Junkie.