Spy drama combines thrilling escapism, technology thrills, and exotic settings to provide viewers with thrills without requiring them to leave their homes. These productions might also have political thriller elements that spectators can only conjure up in their minds. Hence, spy drama is a beloved genre that necessitates the production of several films and television programs each year to quench audiences’ hunger for spying.
Also, spy novels are also a gem and a fantastic source of inspiration and adaptation for filmmakers of this genre since they are widely read and acclaimed works that fans eagerly anticipate seeing adapted for the big screen. Hence, numerous espionage series based on well-known books are eager for people to watch and bathe themselves in the world of lies and deceit.
10 The Assets (2014)
Rotten Tomatoes Scores: 56%
Based on retired CIA officers Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille‘s book Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed, The Assets follows Grimes (Jodie Whittaker) and Vertefeuille (Harriet Walter) as they tracked down Aldrich Ames (Paul Rhys), a mole who provided the Soviet Union with information that led to the murders of at least 10 Soviet intelligence agents who had spied for the US.
The eight-part miniseries is tight and intriguing, yet considering the subject matter, it isn’t overly violent. Moreover, since the real-life case received sufficient media attention, thus, the ending of the show won’t surprise most viewers. Additionally, the lead actors performed an incredible job of portraying their real-life counterparts, particularly Rhys, who looked just as crazy as Ames.
9 Killing Eve (2018 – 2022)
Rotten Tomatoes Scores: 80%
Based on the Villanelle novel series by Luke Jennings, Killing Eve centers on British intelligence agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), who is charged with apprehending psychotic assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer). The two gradually grow obsessed with each other as the chase goes on.
In addition to being one of the crazily unpredictable dramas on television right now, Killing Eve takes a much-needed look at the experiences of women in espionage. The show is fascinatingly odd, expertly performed, darkly hilarious, and searingly suspenseful with two excellent characters and an intriguing premise.
8 The Spy (2019)
Rotten Tomatoes Scores: 86%
The Spy is based on Uri Dan and Yeshayahu Ben Porat‘s book L’espion qui venait d’Israël (The Spy Who Came from Israel) and based on the life of Israel’s top Mossad spy Eli Cohen. The miniseries takes place in the years leading up to Israel and Syria’s Six-Day War in 1967 and traces Cohen’s (Sacha Baron Cohen) journey from his army-rejecting past in Egypt to his espionage within the Syrian Ministry of Defense.
The Spy manages to produce a crisp and fascinating psychological drama even though the series occasionally fails to fill its already small six hours with enough exciting incidents. Since the show is dragging at first, it needs a charismatic figure to carry it, and Cohen is surely charming and engrossing in that role.
7 Condor (2018 – 2020)
Rotten Tomatoes Scores: 87%
Based on James Grady‘s novel Six Days of the Condor and its 1975 film adaptation Three Days of the Condor, Condor follows Joe Turner (Max Irons), a young idealist who joins the CIA in the hopes of changing it for the better. He then discovers a covert scheme that poses a threat to the lives of millions. Joe is compelled to engage the most hazardous components of the military-industrial complex in combat.
Condor is a suspenseful and jolt-driven thriller that isn’t concerned with slowing down for inattentive viewers, although it hits many of the usual notes intrinsic to the subgenre. The cast is terrific, but notably, Irons, who excels as the character who has relied on his cunning rather than weapons, bombs, and technology.
6 The Looming Tower (2018)
Rotten Tomatoes Scores: 88%
Based on the 2006 book of the same name by Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower is a miniseries that follows agents from the FBI and CIA’s counterterrorism departments, I-49 Squad in New York and Alec Station in Washington, D.C., as they traverse the globe arguing over information ownership while ostensibly attempting to stop an impending assault on American soil.
The show is a well-told tale illustrating terrorist motivations, internal squabbling, and the conflict between the CIA and the FBI that reduced their ability to prevent dangers from occurring. The Looming Tower is the place to start if you want to learn how the most significant occurrence in contemporary history occurred.
5 Smiley’s People (1982)
Rotten Tomatoes Scores: 90%
Adapted from the 1979 spy novel of the same name by John le Carré, and a sequel to the 1979 seven-part spy drama, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Smiley’s People continues to follow George Smiley (Alec Guinness) who is summoned out of retirement when one of his old assets, an émigré general, is found dead.
Without compromising the intellectual grounding that sets le Carré’s work apart from other spy sagas, Smiley’s People moves the plot along quickly. In addition, Guinness’ portrayal is so accurate that it is impossible to envision anyone else in the role of Smiley, along with the outstanding cast.
4 The Night Manager (2016)
Rotten Tomatoes Scores: 91%
Based on the 1993 novel of the same name by John le Carré, The Night Manager follows Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), a night manager at a five-star hotel in Cairo and a former British soldier, who is hired by Angela Burr (Olivia Colman), the head of a Foreign Office task team looking into shady arms deals, to join Richard Roper’s (Hugh Laurie) inner circle.
While the stunning cast who masterfully delivers their craft and handsome production gives the show a gritty glamour, the engaging and tense direction by Susanne Bier keeps the audience engaged. The show successfully adapts the original material to the screen in a way that is attractive and also adds timely features.
3 The Little Drummer Girl (2018)
Rotten Tomatoes Scores: 95%
Based on the 1983 novel of the same name by John le Carré, The Little Drummer Girl follows a young English actress, played by Florence Pugh, hired by Mossad to infiltrate the terrorist organization that a Palestinian assassin is using to attack famous Israelis. This mission requires all of her acting skills but also places her in grave danger.
The charming Pugh beautifully brings to life the only le Carré adaptation featuring a female lead. The viewers’ curiosity will eventually be piqued by the philosophical tone of the script, Park Chan Wook‘s mesmerizing direction, and the magnetic chemistry between Pugh and Michael Shannon, all making a intriguing espionage tale.
2 Slow Horses (2022 – )
Rotten Tomatoes Scores: 97%
Based on the Slough House novel series by Mick Herron, Slow Horses centers on Slough House which is an administrative hellhole for MI5 service rejects who messed up but weren’t fired from their jobs, called Slow Horses. They are supposed to put up with tedious, paper-push jobs as well as the occasional verbal abuse from their wretched boss, Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) until they get tangled in schemes endangering Britain.
While employing several tired tropes and stereotypical characters in this genre, Slow Horses masterfully blends black humor with suspense and brings out its fresh components, and updates the classic tale. The show is a contemporary thriller that feels like an old le Carré novel, so if you’re a die-hard fan of British spy thrillers you shouldn’t miss it.
1 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)
Rotten Tomatoes Scores: 100%
Based on John le Carré’s 1974 novel of the same name, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy follows George Smiley (Guinness), the deputy to the director of the British Secret Intelligence Agency, who is pushed into retirement in the wake of Operation Testify, a botched spy mission to Czechoslovakia. When Smiley discovers proof that one of the senior members of his old agency is a Russian spy, he must track down the spy who expelled him from the Circus.
The show is a faithful and methodical adaptation of le Carre’s renowned novel, also supported by Alec Guinness’ unmatched masterclass in nuance. Also, the show is a classic in pace and subtle, teasing delivery because it emphasizes the slow-building suspense and intrigue.
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