The challenge facing any TV version of The Ipcress File was always going to be to nod to the 1965 film, “without becoming so drenched in homage” it reeked of “cheap aftershave”, said Barbara Ellen in The Observer. For the most part, this six-part ITV series succeeds, retaining the film’s basic plot – a nuclear scientist is kidnapped from Cold War Britain – with a few tweaks. Joe Cole stars as Harry Palmer, the working-class, “culinary-minded intelligence agent” memorably played by Michael Caine. Cole has kept Caine’s “nerd-core spectacles and mac”, and while at first he seems “too choirboy-pretty”, he grows into the part.
If this series didn’t have the 1965 film to live up to, “it would be a pretty good drama”, said Anita Singh in The Daily Telegraph. “Gorgeous period stylings, an atmospheric production and assured direction all do justice” to Len Deighton’s spy story, which first came out in 1962. But Cole lacks Caine’s “charisma and 1960s cool”: he plays up the character’s “insolence and aloofness”, but neglects Palmer’s charm. In an attempt to make it more relevant to contemporary audiences, the series gives more room to the female agent Jean Courtney; unfortunately, Lucy Boynton’s performance is a bit “one-note”. Still, the costumes are “fabulous”, and the story motors along “nicely”.
Some will find it “all a bit cartoony and shallow”, said Hugo Rifkind in The Times, but I loved it. “It’s Sunday night, it’s ITV and, while the goodies might be a bit of a mess, at least the baddies are definitely bad. What more could you want?”