Prime Video 'A Spy Among Friends' writer defends adding a woman to miniseries story
"If you call that politically correct and 'woke,' bring it on," writer Alexander Cary says
The espionage thriller miniseries A Spy Among Friends, starring Damian Lewis and Guy Pearce, has landed on Amazon's Prime Video, based on the book by Ben Macintyre.
It tells the story of notorious MI6 agent and KGB double agent Kim Philby (Pearce), but through his friendship with British intelligence colleague Nicholas Elliott (Lewis). The miniseries starts with the discovery that Philby is a Soviet spy and Elliott is assigned the task of getting Philby's confession and retrieving him Beirut.
While jumping around with the timeline, looking back at this friendship, we get a glimpse into this relationship through the perspective of Anna Maxwell Martin's character Lily Thomas. She is an MI5 agent who had been listening in on Elliott's conversation with Philby in Lebanon and interrogates him about the interaction.
'A Spy Among Friends' writer defends woman in the cast
For writer of the miniseries Alexander Cary, he's had to defend the introduction of Martin's character in the series.
I'm getting a small amount of sh-t in some what I would call more conservative outlets saying that it was politically correct and 'woke' to put a woman in this. The truth of the matter is that I think there are a lot of unsung heroes, female heroes of that time in this world, and the reason that we think it's politically correct is because they were f-cking unsung. Why not sing them now?Alexander Cary, 'A Spy Among Friends' miniseries writer
"If you call that politically correct and 'woke,' bring it on."
In fact, as author Macintyre highlights, Lily isn't completely made up, the character is based on multiple women in MI5.
“She's not a complete invention, there were women in MI5,” Macintyre said. “I sort of imagined her straightaway to be a composite of two of them.”
“There was a woman called Jane Archer, who was the most senior female MI5 officer, who Philby actually was terrified off, in reality. He considered her to be extremely dangerous to his to his position. The other one is a woman who went by the [name of Milicent Bagot], who was another kind of anti-Soviet investigator post-war."
Macintyre added that he thought it was a "stroke of genius" to include the character of Lily in the series, which sort of echoes the way the author was trying to analyze this story for his book.
"It's almost somebody looking at this thing from a different perspective, from a modern perspective, and trying to tease apart the strange and complex, and intertwining issues of class, race, clubs, politics," he said. "It's a fascinating complicated tangle of things that exist in this story and she's there, as I was, trying to pull it apart."
"Trying to work out which strands are working where and who's lying to who, and who's telling the truth and who is betraying at what point, and what are they betraying. ... In lots of ways, I think the Lily Thomas character is doing that for us. She's our investigator, she's our interlocutor. She is the person who is as puzzled and inquisitive, and as curious and is unwilling to be taken, as we as readers, writers, and viewers, and filmmakers are as well."
Expanding on adding this point of view for the story, Cary explained that it was part of the desire to not "regurgitate" the book, so there was a need for a new perspective in the story.
“I wanted to introduce a character through whose eyes we the viewer could watch the story, could experience it, could experience this friendship between these two men,” he said. “I thought it would be interesting and fun to have a person who represented the Britain that was being ignored by these men of the establishment."
"That's why I came up with her, the fact that she's from Durham as well, the fact that she's working class was deliberate. I wanted to have somebody who was not sympathetic to what people like Philby and Elliott probably took for granted, which was their privilege, or was at least more aware of their privilege in many ways than they were.”
While the story of Philby has certainly been told, it really is this added point of view for the series that makes the delivery feel refreshed. But at the heart of the story is still deep betrayal.
“It's a really intimate betrayal because this was as close a friendship ... that you could possibly imagine,” Macintyre said. “It had a particular kind of resonance because it was forged in wartime and the two of them were not only very similar in age and class, in education and interest, … they also had a special bond in that they believed they had fought shoulder-to-shoulder in the war.”
“But one of them was being betrayed throughout that process, was being lied to from the very, very first moment. In fact, one of the very chilling things, one of Philby's first reports back to the KGB about Nicholas Elliott was brutally unkind. It was a really nasty piece of reporting. So right from the beginning, Philby knew exactly what he was doing.”