Horn-rimmed glasses, mostly black trademarks of pop culture icons from Austin Powers to Jerry Lewis: on whatever film and television nose they weigh the size of a book – their use goes far beyond optimizing vision for this reason alone. Fictionally it is commonly made of window glass. The model lying on the bedside table at the beginning of the Sky series “The Ipcress File” follows a dramaturgical idea rather than a medical one. Anyone who needs this thing generally lacks perspective. Apparently this also applies to this carrier.
His name is Harry Palmer, he smuggles whiskey, caviar and chocolate through the newly built Berlin Wall and ends up in a military prison for it. Because massive glasses, interpreted cinematically, not only stand for clumsiness, but also for intelligentsia, the London math genius from a proletarian household is hired by the British secret service. With the help of his underworld contacts, he is supposed to free a nuclear researcher and plan to build the neutron bomb from Russian hands.
Sounds like spy stuff from the days when a 007 just had to lift his chest hair to take down models first, then supervillains. Finally, Danny Boyle’s regular writer John Hodge (“Trainspotting”) turns a classic into a television series, which follows the most famous of all cinema agents three years after his hunt for Dr. No competition should make. Less action, more bureaucracy, more networks than super villains – based on Len Deighton’s novel of the same name, “The Ipcress File” was the realistic antithesis to the fantastic James Bond. In theory at least.
In practice, the leading actor, Michael Caine, with his black horn-rimmed glasses, looked more innocent to women and enemies than Sean Connery; his war veteran Palmer, however, managed to defuse the nuclear system conflict and be erotically successful even without Bond’s professional experience. The fact that the two spies on behalf of the Crown were not entirely dissimilar despite Palmer’s musical preferences (Mozart), accent (Cockney) and attitude (left) was probably due to the producer.
His name was Harry Saltzman, he built up the Bond cosmos to today’s billion mark and thus competed with himself – a life’s work that his children are now continuing. Almost 60 years after the award-winning film birth, under the helm of Steven and Hilary Saltzman, the sober 007 impersonation Palmer rises and looks much the same as it did back then. What’s more, while Harry’s glasses are as thick as they were in 1965, director James Watkins is apparently trying to make the Sixties look more original than the original.
When Peaky Blinders star Joe Cole finds himself caught in the cold war fronts as a reluctant spy escaping his sentence in the fictional MI6 department WOOC(P), it often seems as if production designer James Price has doused his sets in gallons of Technicolor . Everything about the six-part remake is artificially overloaded. From London to Beirut to Rome, many backdrops gleam in a museum-like retro style, as if they had transformed the “Mad Men” into an advertising clip show. And then Palmer’s beautiful colleague Jean (Lucy Boynton) wears a changing emblematic costume with the perfect updo in every scene.
Compared to this, Michael Caine’s sixties are more reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s seventies in their sadness – and raise the question why ITV is padding out its nostalgic men’s entertainment from times when men were still guys and women only accessories now of all times with even more beautiful personnel, both aesthetically and in terms of content. Maybe so, because Putin is dragging the Cold War out of the warm room of the post-heroic age into the open at the same time. Perhaps also because the fight between good and evil, full of spineless double agents and crisis winners, is far too topical for the cinematic cellar shelf.
Certainly also because Amy Whinehouse, mod fashion and historical miniseries regularly show the pull of this epoch of elegant self-liberation. And last but not least: because showrunner Hodge steers the once liberal attitude of the “Ipcress file” with a clear edge against racism, misogyny, machismo towards modernity. “It’s a lot easier for men to lie,” Jean says after her fiancé left her because of his single-breadwinner attitude, “everything’s so much easier for you guys.” Okay, except for the glasses, of course.