A Spy Among Friends director explains why the show is deliberately confusing

A spy among friends director Nick Murphy has explained his reasoning for the show’s confusing narrative, saying it was a deliberate choice to “discombobulate” viewers.

Throughout the series, the show jumps between multiple locations over 30 years as it tells the story of Nicholas Elliott (Damian Lewis) and KGB double agent Kim Philby (Guy Pearce). Murphy explained that it was a conscious decision from the beginning not to explicitly label each location and year, in order to focus on the show’s emotional story.

“The show jumps around for over 30 years in London, Berlin, Moscow, Vienna, Istanbul… We made a decision pretty early on not to write captions while jumping around because it would be this endless litany of captions on screen,” he told Digital spy.

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“It characterizes our approach to storytelling. It expects the audience to have a certain level of intelligence to follow and pay attention,” he continued.

Murphy went on to add that the time jumps make sense to tell the story of Elliott and Philby’s friendship.

“When you watch [the show]the thread that justifies why you make these leaps is emotionally connected,” he continued. “You don’t feel [like], ‘Wait a minute, I’m just going off the narrative point’. I’m going to answer a question I’m already asking.

“The jumping around—the almost discombobulating structure of it—is part of the point. We’re trying to figure out what their friendship meant, and what it means, and what was it? What did I know then? Could I see it then?

anna maxwell, a spy among friends

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“So all of this shouldn’t be presented as a sort of linear inquiry, but more as an ability to sort of put things together. And the one person who’s trying to make linear sense of it all is Anna [Maxwell-Martin’s] character.”

However, Murphy added that the show also provided some visual cues for locations.

“All I had to do then was provide a kind of visual grammar that was very clear, and the gradation of the image is a little different. The sunlight in Beirut is different from the architecture of Moscow, and things like that,” he said.

“So the designer and the photographer and I created a slightly different visual grammar for each so you knew where you were.”

A spy among friends now streaming on ITVX.


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