Spy Movie Navigator Recap of ITV’s: “The Ipcress File” Press Conference

Contributed by: Dan Silvestri and Tom Pizzato - Spy Movie Navigator

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ITV is set to release its new series based on the Len Deighton book, “The Ipcress File”.  In advance of the release, ITV hosted a press conference and has released a trailer.  You can see this trailer here on YouTube (ITV – The Ipcress File Official Trailer).

The series, which will air starting in March 2022, will be released on ITV in the UK, AMC+ in the US, Seven Network in Australia, Now TV in Hong Kong, Tohokushinsha in Japan, and Lionsgate Play in India, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Dan Silvestri and Tom Pizzato from SpyMovieNavigator.com had the wonderful opportunity to attend a press briefing for the “The Ipcress File” TV series hosted by ITV.

Spy Movie Navigator’s Previous Analysis of the Movie The Ipcress File

In August of 2020, Spy Movie Navigator released our podcasts on the Harry Saltzman-produced movie of the Len Deighton book, “The Ipcress File”. These podcasts were very well received throughout the world, thank you to our audience for that. Then, later that year, ITV announced that they obtained the right to produce a tv series based on the book.

In those podcasts, we talked about what we liked, and what we wished was different in the movie. Specifically, we called out

  1. The use of Harry’s glasses to bring things in and out of focus
  2. The fact that Jean’s role wasn’t very well developed, and we wanted to see more of her story
  3. The trickery of the camera shots bothered Tom, Dan liked them
  4. The fact that the atoll part of the book wasn’t in the movie. We didn’t know this was a problem until we read the book.

As we discuss our experience here at the press conference, you will see why we are so excited about this series.

Why The Series Excites Us

We can’t wait as there was a lot in the book that they couldn’t show in the movie with Michael Caine. This series gives them a lot more time to flesh things out.

The movie, The Ipcress File, ran 1 hour and 49 minutes – so they will have more time here in the series for sure.

This is an exciting series whose six episodes have been shot already in Liverpool England and Croatia. It promises to be an outstanding series, starring Joe Cole (of “Peaky Blinders” fame) as Harry Palmer, Tom Hollander as Major Dalby, Lucy Boynton as Jean Courtney, Ashely Thomas as Maddox, Paul Bazely as Morris, David Dencik as Colonel Stok, and Tamla Kari as Deborah.

Tom Hollander was just in The King’s Man. He was also in Bohemian Rhapsody with Lucy Boynton. David Dencik played Tom’s favorite character in No Time To Die, Valdo Obruchev. He also was in Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy. And we can’t wait to see Joe Cole after his roles as John Shelby in “Peaky Blinders” and Sean Wallace in “Gangs of London.”  Ashley Thomas played Isaac Carter in the TV series “24: Legacy”. It will also be good to see Paul Bazely and Tamla Kari tackling a spy movie.

This is a tremendous cast, and in the press briefing we were able to see some of the clips from the series, and wow! The acting is superb, but so in the condemnatorily, sets and ambiance of recreating a 1960s England and setting.

Of course, “The Ipcress File” is based on the works of Len Deighton, and we remember the 1960s movie trilogy starring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, and Billion Dollar Brain. We have podcasts out on all three of those movies (Podcast links: The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, and Billion Dollar Brain).

The character, Harry Palmer, is offered an opportunity to be a spy, versus serving prison time and that is the basis of his personality and interactions with his boss, Major Dalby. Caine was superb.

But the 1960s was a long time ago, and not much has been done with Harry Palmer since, other than a couple of made-for-TV movies that were not that well received. So, now we move to the present!

Press Conference Attendees & Discussion

The meeting was expertly hosted by Boyd Hilton, and in attendance were actors Joe Cole, Lucy Boynton, Tom Hollander, Ashley Thomas, John Hodge (the writer), and James Watkins (the series Director).

John Hodge, the writer, suggested that this is a great spy story, embracing social mobility and class, glass ceilings, and more. He is a fan of the books and said that it was appealing to turn this into a 6-part TV series.

He also suggests that the tone will be humor, the warmth of human interaction, the feeling of humanity, highlighting small moments – human weaknesses and strengths. He came back to the theme of humanity multiple times in the discussion so this seems like it will be very important to watch out for.

We at SpyMovieNavigator.com wonder how much detail will be presented in the series since the movie in 1965 was about 109 minutes. Here they have a series of 6 episodes which will afford them a lot more time to develop the storyline and characters.

We very much would like to see the atoll appear in the series.  That whole part of the book wasn’t in the movie, and we want to see what they do with it. It was our favorite part of the book.


Lucy Boynton gave us her insights and said that her character, Jean Courtney, is an interesting woman in the 1960s liberation environment – a very interesting era. Here, we may find out more about Jean’s personal life. She was an intriguing character in the book but limited. In this series, we will see more of her personality and her in an expanded professional role.

They reminded us that the book is written in the first person. Remember, Harry was the first person in the novel and didn’t get a name until the film. Therefore, some of the characters, including Jean need to have their roles expanded, which they do here. So that’s one of the things we mentioned we’d like to have seen in the movie. We’ll get that here.

Two things Lucy Boynton said about Jean that grabbed our attention were “She uses that societal underestimation of young women to her advantage” and “She’s such a commentary on what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry.”

As for the first quote, Lucy Boynton also mentioned that Jean can hide in plain sight. She also tells us that in the book and the movie, Jean is Harry’s assistant. However, in the series, Jean is an agent in her own right and is “bloody good at what she does.


Ashley Thomas, who plays Maddox, fleshes out the character of an African American in the 1960s – a very capable man with twists and turns – who is in a position of power, so it is interesting to explore this dynamic of an African American in that time. In the series, he has a sense of humor, smiles during some tense moments which relives the serious scenes a bit.

Ashley said that he approaches each character with respect (accents, back story, etc.) and wanted to get that unique perspective on 1960s African Americans.

He also liked the fish and chips in Liverpool where they filmed a lot of this series.  We like to hear comments like this in press briefings.  It lets us learn more about the talent involved in the production.

Ashley talks about how his character is expanded, especially for an African American in a time of racial oppression. He said they made “sure these things were addressed, and I wasn’t just shoehorned into the series. So, I was really excited with what John and James had come up with for the character. He’s a very capable man and many people who are African American or just black whether in the UK or in the US are very capable. Given the state of society at that time weren’t given those opportunities.” He then says “He’s in a position of power. He’s going to have to be very good, if not better than some of his counterparts to be in those positions.” He mentions how black people were often not shown in positions of power in that period.

They then commented that his first onscreen line is “Yes, that’s right, I’m black”.

So, with both Jean and Maddox, the humanity that John Hodge talks about will come through.


Tom Hollander, playing Major Dalby said it was a strong script by John Hodge – witty, economical, authentic to the period, while still making things fresh. Dalby, he thinks, is a “headmaster” type – complicated and slightly jaded. He looked at the script, looked at the original film but did not finish the book.

We like that Hollander says that Dalby was fun to play. That “headmaster”, “slightly jaded” points he mentioned probably added to his fun. Hollander is such a good actor that it was good to hear his excitement for this role. Dalby is a huge part of the story.

He also commented on how the writers, John and James, were quite receptive to character development ideas from the actors. Which, he said doesn’t always happen.  We like hearing when the writers and directors take input from the actor. We think we see better performances when the actor has that input. He or she has an idea of how they want to play a role and having the powers that be buy-in is great to see.


Joe Cole plays Harry Palmer. Joe said that he was not really familiar with Harry Palmer, but after speaking with people, he realized what an important character he is. He saw the Michael Caine stuff, he said but still did his own thing. He looked at the book, watched the movie, but did not want to do a Michael Caine impersonation – he wanted to do his own thing with it.

We thought that was a good insight on his part. It would be so easy for an actor to take on an iconic role and just try to duplicate what the first guy did. And with Michael Caine’s style, it would be easy to fall into an impersonation. So, it’s good to see Cole acknowledge or recognize that and point out that he didn’t want to just do an impersonation.

He also talked about the point of working-class versus his superiors.

When Joe was asked how it felt to put on those glasses for the first time, Joe said: it was important to get them right and he tried a lot on – haircut, glasses clothes – all important. He joked that “the glasses were a great thing to hide behind!” And he admitted they were non-prescription.

From the clips we have seen, Joe does a bang-up, brilliant job as Harry Palmer. They did keep the glasses thing as part of the Harry Palmer image!


James Watkins – the Series Director said, they started with Joe Cole as Harry Palmer and built around that. He suggested that Joe has that intersection of gentleness and knowing the world is against him. He said that Joe as Harry uses humor well and is the kind of guy you want to hang out with like Hans Solo.

One thing that Watkins mentioned that hit home for us was that Len Deighton describes Harry Palmer as “a winner who puts himself across as a loser.” He is angry and he’s got insolence. “Joe and I spent a lot of time trying to capture that tone.”

The opening shot of the show is of the glasses – out of focus, then in focus with the glasses on – like the movies. This was another from our list of items we liked in our podcasts on the movie.


Hodge added that the series comments on social attitudes – social issues, mobility. That era in the 1960s had freedom promised but not always delivered.

We saw that in the movie, but it was filmed in the 60s. So, it’s good to see that they kept that feel.


Lucy Boynton, playing Jean Courtney, said that Joe Cole brought a sense of humor and the freedom to have fun with it. Her character, Jean, was a person who was impenetrable – and Harry was the first to penetrate that.

Joe was asked if Harry was an anti-James Bond? Joe says he read that somewhere. He is very different and sees Harry as working class, who doesn’t have a lot of money, and who is hyper-intelligent and he’s fun. Cole says” The most important thing for me was to try to capture that.”

The trick was making Harry likable too – likable but facetious, a balance. He wants to push a few buttons that make Harry tough and critical, but also likable. Cole gave an example of this when he described a scene from the beginning of the first episode when Harry is with Jean. He talked about how the writing and Lucy’s powerful performance as Jean in this scene really could make Harry “look like a dick”, and how he had to make Harry likable.

The repartee between Joe as Harry and Tom as Dalby is great! Tom says it is in the taught, witty script – “dynamic class stuff in it!” They talked about how Harry knows he is trapped (forced to be a spy) but that Dalby is also trapped in a way – “both dancing on their own pinheads – restricted by the world that is theirs.”

Joe also gave us some insight into acting with an accomplished actor like Tom Hollander playing Dalby. Joe initially thought that in his first scenes with Dalby, Harry would have a swagger about him. But then he thought, no, Tom will see right through that. So, he quashed those ideas and went with what John had written. You don’t hear actors talk too much like that, so we thought this was refreshing to hear. We thought that was a great insight. And you can see that in the characters themselves. Brilliant.


In general, they commented that locations were important for the character’s journey. James Watkins, the director says that they are going to some of the places that were in the book that they didn’t have in the movie due to budgetary constraints.

YES!!!! This makes us very happy because we saw the movie first and then read the book. There is a section of the book on an atoll that wasn’t in the movie but makes it into the series. We mentioned it in our podcasts on the movies. We didn’t miss it in the movie since we saw it first, but after reading the book, we missed it immensely in the movie. Len Deighton’s description of this part of the story was so vivid we can’t wait to see what they do with it here in the series. We’re so glad they will have that and Beirut and Finland in the series. YES!!!

Watkins also said that “James Bond is a superhero movie whereas Harry Palmer is a real person. He wants to not work on his weekends, and he wants to reclaim his expenses, is interested about what he’s cooking. It’s real life” he’s a real guy and the plot in the series is to get to know the characters and hang out with them.

As for filming in Liverpool, they all said they liked Liverpool.

  • Tom Hollander said they liked Liverpool because it was full of amazing buildings and history – bits of Britain from the 1960s still there.
  • Ashley said it was the first production in the UK during Covid – so there were adjustments with masks, etc.
  • Joe said he liked Liverpool, while Lucy said she had not been to Liverpool before.

We found it was interesting to hear about how the pandemic lockdowns affected their experience.


As for costumes, James Watkins said they looked at stuff from the 1960s so they could “incorporate elements of the character information” through the costumes. For instance, there is a collision between the way Dalby and Palmer dress – the class thing again.  Class is very important in this story.


As for the color palette in general: they wanted to show a bleached color palate – to look like 1965 – dirty whites, grit – more life textures in terms of costumes and design. A pattern of dirtiness.

We thought this discussion was great. No one talks about this. Yes, people talk about the virtues of shooting on film or digital, but they normally don’t explain why they like one or the other. But Watkins talked about the differences here. He said that he and the cinematographer, Tim Maurice Jones, spent a lot of time on that. How to take a chemical film approach to digital film. how to make the reds right. They are plum red; the whites are dirty ivory whites.

He said that if you film a white wall on digital it’s all ones and zeros and it looks the same from frame to frame to frame, on film each frame is a different photochemical composition so there is a grain structure to it. Yes, this was geeky, but it helped us understand the differences and the challenges of trying to shoot something today and make it look like the 60s.  We loved this discussion.


Another topic from this part of the discussion with Watkins scares Tom Pizzato, from Spy Movie Navigator, a bit, but not Dan Silvestri. Watkins mentions that there are off-kilter camera angles in the series. He says they looked at the movie The Third Man for inspiration.

Remember at the beginning of this podcast we mentioned that the tricky camera angles in the movie, The Ipcress File, bothered Pizzato. Harry Saltzman, who produced the movie, got into disagreements with the director of the movie about them.  It was editor Peter Hunt who convinced Saltzman that they worked.

Pizzato is wary about this while Silvestri loved the variety and unique camera angles in the original movie!

One of Pizzato’s concerns here is that the cinematographer for the series is Tim Maurice-Jones. He was also the Director of Photography for the just-released movie The 355. In our review of that movie, we commented on the shakiness and off-plane camera shots, especially for the close-in fight scenes. Pizzato didn’t like those. So, we’ll have to see what Watkins means with the “off-kilter” camera angles here in this series.


ITV’s Director of Television, Kevin Lygo, came on at end of the discussion and said that this is a great production – movie quality. The team joked around a bit that this was a higher-level production than what ITV normally produces. They compared it to a big-budget Netflix series. And from what we saw, it looked like that for sure.


If you look at the list we mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, it looks like this team kept the stuff we liked from the movie The Ipcress File and except for the off-kilter camera stuff, addressed the stuff we didn’t like. We can’t wait for this to come out. The atoll was a bit later in the book, so we’ll probably have to wait for a few episodes to see it, but this press conference has us on the edge of my seat waiting for March when this comes out.

Finally, it was great to be invited to the press conference – we were two of 64 journalists around the world on the call, so this was pretty special!  We want to thank ITV for inviting us to this press conference for the upcoming ITV series “The Ipcress File”.

Dan Silvestri and Tom Pizzato are the creators of the website SpyMovieNavigator.com.  We create podcasts, YouTube videos, and more focusing on spy movies.  Our podcast and our YouTube channel share the name “Cracking the Code of Spy Movies”! You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@SpyNavigator), and Instagram too! And we welcome you to join our private Facebook group, The Worldwide Community of Spy Movie Fans!


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