The Ipcress File is an undercover mission

Sunday:The Ipcress File; (ITV, 9pm)

By Claire Cartmill
Saturday, 5th March 2022, 5:00 pm

It’s a new six-part thriller, adapted from Len Deighton’s celebrated novel by Oscar-nominee John Hodge and with a supporting cast that includes Tom Hollander and Lucy Boynton.

So, landing the lead role in The Ipcress File should be a dream job for any young actor, yet you could forgive Joe Cole for being a little bit apprehensive. After all, he’s playing Harry Palmer, who was previously brought to the screen by Michael Caine in the 1965 movie version, and he’s a very hard act to follow.

Luckily, Joe, whose previous credits include Skins, Black Mirror and The Ipcress File’s Sunday-night rival Peaky Blinders, was ready to make the role his own.

Harry Palmer, Jean Courtney, William Dalby and Paul Maddox

He says: “Harry Palmer is an iconic character. The anti-Bond. I hadn’t seen the movies prior to being sent the project and didn’t know much about him, but I quickly found myself enamoured with the man, the myth, the legend. And once I found out who was on board – the director James Watkins and other creatives – had read the scripts and did some homework on the character, it just felt like a really fantastic opportunity to play someone that is different to me, but also shares some similarities.”

He adds: “I didn’t really plan to watch the 1965 Michael Caine film. But then when I got up to Liverpool to start shooting, I thought, ‘Maybe I better check this out.’ So I watched it. I appreciated it for what it is and what it was, but my Harry is something a little bit different.”

That even extends to his choice in eyewear. Joe says: “The glasses were massive in getting into the character of Harry Palmer. Originally, we were looking at the same ones that Michael Caine wore back in the day. And they just did not work. The ones we used still have the very hard black, strong frames and they just worked. For me, as soon as I put them on it was job done.”

For those who haven’t been doing their homework on Harry, he’s a working-class British corporal serving in 1960s Berlin. He discovers the newly partitioned city offers plenty of money-making opportunities, and, as Joe puts it, is soon ‘dealing in contraband and whatever else during the Cold War between the West and East’.

His activities eventually lend him in trouble with his superiors, and he’s looking at a stint in a military prison, until it turns out that his resourcefulness and ability to network have also been noticed by the intelligence services. They offer him a deal – he can avoid prison if he becomes a spy. And his first case is an undercover mission linked to the kidnapping of a British nuclear scientist. It will take him from Swinging London to Beirut and a nuclear atoll in the Pacific.

Caine went on to reprise the role of Palmer in four more films, so if this version of The Ipcress File is a success, can we also expect to see Joe return? He’s not ruling it out… “Who knows? Big shoes to fill. So, let’s see how it goes down.”

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