In 1945 London, spoilt society miss “Feef” is indulging her need for a adventure by a) training with MI6 with a view to doing a spot of spying behind enemy lines, and b) having an affair with handsome, married American intelligence officer Matt Lauria, from unpopcult’s beloved Friday Night Lights). When the end of the war puts paid to both those pastimes, and brings a new, non-Tory government besides, she is immediately persuaded to spy at home for the Americans instead; ruthless US operative Michael Stuhlbarg is convinced there is a Russian agent embedded at Whitehall and needs new-recruit-to-the-Civil-Service Feef to flush him/her out.
It’s an interesting idea, with an impressive cast and some intriguing political ground to cover but, sadly, the total is nowhere near the sum of its parts. Emma Appleton does all she can with her, but Feef is selfish, irritating and a lot more fascinating to the rest of the characters than she is to me. Keeley Hawes, fresh from her commanding turn in Bodyguard, is utterly wasted – in this first episode, her Priscilla Garrick has nothing to do beyond pursing her lips and looking prim and disapproving in the most obvious stereotype of a female civil servant possible. And Brandon P. Bell’s US army driver Jackson might be there to “tell a story of the African American experience in the Second World War,” but the fact that Jackson literally has no lines at all this week – he gets to scream once, loudly, but, other than that, just silently drives white people around – is either pointed meta-commentary on the erasure of the voices of people of colour from Western history, or it just compounds the problem. Either way, it’s a waste of a character and an actor who could do plenty.
There are positives, though. For a start, I‘m both surprised and delighted to see Greg “Gary: Tank Commander” McHugh pop up as one of Keeley’s colleagues/ Feef’s boss. (Gary!) Story-wise, the opening few minutes are nice and tense and include a genuinely startling REDACTED. And, towards the end of the ep, Luke Treadaway’s Hugh Fenton, newly-minted Labour MP, gives a terrific, barnstorming speech about the rich and the poor and the power of the few, which just about takes the roof off – it’s a fantastic piece of oratory, as resonant now and indeed any time throughout history as it is in that moment, and it makes me wonder what this show could have been if Feef had that sort of fire and verve and empathy in her. Maybe she will develop it. Maybe Jackson will speak. And maybe there will be more to Priscilla than little spectacles and scraped-back hair. If you want to find out, all six episodes are currently available on 4OD, but one hour of Traitors is enough for me – Agent Feef and I will be parting ways here.