The Ipcress File: Len Deighton's twist-laden Sixties spy thriller comes to ITV

Peaky Blinders star Joe Cole stars as Harry Palmer in a new six-part adaptation of Deighton’s debut novel about the savvy secret agent on his first undercover mission.

By James Descombes Published: 11 November 2021 - 1.01pm


ITV Joe Cole as Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File

Harry Palmer, Len Deighton’s Cold War spy brought to life on the big screen by Michael Caine, is making his small-screen debut in a six-part ITV adaptation of his first outing, The Ipcress File.

ITV filmed the exciting drama in Croatia and Liverpool during 2021 and the show, starring Peaky Blinders star Joe Cole as Palmer, should be making its way onto our screens very soon.

What is The Ipcress File?

Joe Cole as Harry Palmer in ITV's The Ipcress File ITV

The Ipcress File is a six-part adaptation of the famous 1962 Len Deighton novel of the same name. The spy novel has sold over 10 million copies worldwide and was the inspiration for the 1965 film, The Ipcress File, starring Sir Michael Caine.

This atmospheric espionage thriller is the first of a series featuring the iconic British spy Harry Palmer – meaning we could see much more of Cole’s Harry Palmer in the future.

Oscar-nominated and BAFTA Award winner John Hodge, who’s best known for his work on Trainspotting and T2 Trainspotting, has written and executive produced The Ipcress File for TV, while Emmy Award winner James Watkins (McMafia, Black Mirror, The Woman In Black) directed the series.

ITV’s Head of Drama Polly Hill commented: “I'm thrilled to be bringing John Hodge’s brilliant adaptation of such an iconic novel to ITV. Harry Palmer is an incredible part and this would have been impossible without the right actor, so we are all delighted that Joe Cole will take on the role.  The talent on and off screen means this will be a treat for audiences when it comes to ITV.”

What’s the plot?

Lucy Boynton in The Ipcress File ITV

Harry Palmer is a British army sergeant based in Berlin in 1963, as the Cold War rages between east and west. Yet even in this newly partitioned city, with nuclear bombers permanently occupying the skies above, a sharp and savvy, working-class young man with sophisticated tastes can make a lot of money.

Wholesaler, retailer, fixer, smuggler… Harry’s long list of extra-curricular activities brings him into contact with everything and everyone – until the law catches up and it all comes crashing to a halt, resulting in eight years in a grim military prison back in England.

But Harry’s impressive network has piqued the interest of British intelligence, who have a proposal. To avoid prison, Harry can become a spy. His first assignment: The Ipcress File.

This dangerous undercover mission will take Harry from swinging London to the Berlin Wall, and from Beirut to the white-hot sands of a nuclear atoll, as he uses his links to try and solve the case of a kidnapped British nuclear scientist.

Expect twists aplenty in this tense tale of abducted scientists, brainwashing, inter-departmental rivalry, treason, and a possibly unwise romance.

Who’s in the cast?

Tom Hollander as Major Dalby in The Ipcress File ITV

Joe Cole takes on the role of British Spy Harry Palmer. You’ll probably recognise Joe from the hit show Peaky Blinders, where he played John Shelby, or from Sky’s hard-hitting crime drama, Gangs of London, where he played Sean Wallace, the son of a murdered crime boss.

Lucy Boynton, best known for her roles in Bohemian Rhapsody and Murder on the Orient Express, plays the glamourous Jean Courtney – Harry Palmer’s assistant and romantic interest.

Also starring is Tom Hollander (The Night Manager, Birdbox), above, as Palmer’s spymaster Major Dalby, Ashley Thomas (24: Legacy, Top Boy), below, and Paul Bazely (Benidorm) as Morris.

Ashley Thomas in The Ipcress File ITV

When can I watch The Ipcress File?

There’s no confirmed date yet for this ITV drama, but the broadcaster has included it in its Winter 2021 schedule so expect to see it later this year or early in 2022.

You can watch the 1965 movie of The Ipcress File, starring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, on BritBox.

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