Maurice Boyd (Michael Williams), an ex-MI6 agent turned Russian defector, returns secretly to the UK to attend the funeral of his granddaughter. The Close Protection Unit are assigned to project him and have put a strict secrecy blanket in operation – since many people (including MI6) would be far from happy if it was known that Boyd was back in the country ….
Stand Off benefits enormously from the presence of Michael Williams. Maurice Boyd is something of a Kim Philby-like character and the audience’s knowledge of real-life defectors no doubt helps to fill in some of the blanks. There’s something of a personal edge to the story, as MacIntyre and Boyd had been close colleagues. Prior to his arrival, MacIntyre displays an understandable coolness towards his former friend (responsible for the deaths of many fellow agents) but we see something of a rapprochement as the story progresses.
Boyd later tells him that “I don’t regret what I did, I never will. But there are some things in my life that I do regret. And one of them is the rift between us.” Since Boyd is an arch dissembler it’s left unclear whether this is the truth or yet another lie. Throughout the story Boyd is presented as an affable, friendly sort – which means that reconciling his current behaviour with his previous actions is difficult, but that’s true of many real-life traitors.
Anthony Bate, an actor not unfamiliar with spy dramas, has the small but pivotal role of Sir Thomas Glennie. It’s always a pleasure to see Bate, even in such a brief cameo, although it’s a little surprising that he didn’t return at the conclusion of the story. But then as we’ve seen previously in Bodyguards, the focus of the series is the protection of their subjects rather than the solving of mysteries.
Stand Off poses the question as to who wants Boyd dead and there’s a credible answer provided – a high-up government official who, like Boyd, is a Russian agent, although he, unlike Boyd, has remained undetected. With Boyd working on a book that (ala Peter Wright’s Spycatcher) plans to name names, this agent is keen to silence Boyd and so arranges for his granddaughter to be killed in order to lure him to the UK.
This part of the plot doesn’t quite hold water – if Boyd was preparing to betray his Russian masters by revealing the identity of a mole inside the British establishment, why haven’t the Russians taken steps to silence Boyd and his co-writer? It would have made more sense for the Russians to deal with Boyd in their own country rather than for the mole to spirit Boyd over to Britain.
A minor quibble, since – as previously touched upon – the mystery part of the story plays second fiddle to the job of keeping the target alive. Williams and Shrapnel only have a few scenes together, which is a shame, but they certainly make the most of them. Apart from a few explosions, Stand Off is fairly low-key – character interactions rather than gunplay drive it forward – but there are far worse ways to spend fifty minutes.