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Revisit Cold War espionage in the BBC's ‘The Game’

Tom Hughes plays a young covert spy caught in the Cold War with the Soviets in 1970s London. The British series, “The Game,” premieres on BBC America Nov. 5. (Des Willie/BBC America/MCT)
Tom Hughes plays a young covert spy caught in the Cold War with the Soviets in 1970s London. The British series, “The Game,” premieres on BBC America Nov. 5. (Des Willie/BBC America/MCT) MCT

The 1970s have become trendy again on TV.

In BBC America’s six-episode series “The Game” (Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET), the gray days of the Cold War, the fear of possible nuclear elimination by the Soviet Union is alive and well in the U.K., and MI-5, the domestic counter-intelligence agency, is tasked with preventing it.

All of this comes out slowly in “The Game” where agent Joe Lambe (Tom Hughes) meets with a Russian defector who says that Britain is in danger from “Operation Glass.” Lambe takes this to his boss, known as “Daddy” (Brian Cox) whose team has to tell whether the threat is real, fake or just spy-vs.-spy manipulation. It is all set in the 1970s, characterized by drab boring buildings and lighting, constant smoking, and much drinking.

During the Cold War the U.S.S.R and its allies dueled with the West — the U.K., U.S. and others — for ideology (Communism vs. Democracy) and power.

One of the great strengths of the better British dramas is well-rounded characterization.

In “The Game,” each man and woman have their foibles and flaws but the real question boils down to is are they loyal to their country or to the Soviets or just to themselves?

One man is ruled by his ambitious mother’s demands. The team’s mousy secretary has gotten a promotion and hopes for more. The nuts-and-bolts technical genius is married to a rising star, and the work is stressing their marriage. Daddy has fallen for a Chinese ballerina in the days when China was totally Communist with absolutely no taint of modern capitalism. Is she a plant by the Chinese to infiltrate the Security Service?

The past haunts Lambe, a past where he was planted in the Soviet Union as a traitor and watched his girlfriend and lover be murdered by the Soviet spy he is now hunting. He acts more like a PTSD survivor spouting a MI-5 government line that he scarcely believes.

The office is a tangle of conflicting ambitions and wounded agents while the Russian bear is on the prowl outside.

Is the threat of nuclear warfare real or a trap? Are the Soviets really activating “sleeper agents” to make “Operation Glass” succeed? Will everyone in MI-5 die of alcohol poisoning or cigarettes before the nuclear strike? It’s worth tuning in to “The Game” to see.

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‘THE GAME’

BBC America

Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET

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