When is a play about espionage not about espionage? When it’s a Stephen Poliakoff play, that’s when.
All the elements are here in Soft Targets, one of the BBC’s Plays for Today. It’s got Ian Holm – fantastic, of course, as Bernard in ITV’s later adaptation of Len Deighton’s Game, Set and Match trilogy – here playing a junior Soviet official called Alexei. It’s got Helen Mirren as a mysterious blonde, who appears and disappears mysteriously. It’s got Nigel Havers and Rupert Everett as Brits of various importance. Everything looks set.
But this isn’t a play about spies. It’s about paranoia. It’s about people meeting and misinterpreting things and each other. It’s about the difference between how they perceive the world, how it really is, and how the world perceives them. It has the pace of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy but the final revelation is a very different conclusion.
As always, if you like it, buy it on DVD – it’s one of the Helen Mirren at the BBC collection, which also includes The Apple Cart, Caesar and Claretta, The Philanthropist, The Little Minister, The Country Wife, Blue Remembered Hills, Mrs Reinhardt, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cymbeline and The Hawk.