A Spy Among Friends
by Jake Kanter, Peter White, Nellie Andrea | Deadline | July 7, 2020
EXCLUSIVE: Billions’ Damian Lewis and Guy Pearce are in negotiations to headline and executive produce a limited series adaptation of bestselling Cold War espionage thriller A Spy Among Friends for Spectrum Originals and UK streamer BritBox.
The six-episode A Spy Among Friends, based on Ben Macintyre’s book, comes from former Homeland executive producer Alexander Cary, Sony Pictures Television and ITV Studios. While filming has been delayed due to COVID-19, production is expected to recommence shortly, with a tentative release planned for the fall of 2021.
A Spy Among Friends follows the defection of notorious British intelligence officer and KGB double agent, Kim Philby (Pearce), through the lens of his complex relationship with MI6 colleague and close friend, Nicholas Elliott (Lewis). The show examines espionage through their friendship, the fallout of which affects East-West relations to this day.
Philby was a British spy who notoriously defected to the Soviet Union in the 1950s, betraying secrets to the Russians in the early years of the Cold War. He and Elliott entered the spy game together, but as they rose through the MI6 ranks, Philby turned double agent.
The double-hander was described by the New York Times as having the tropes of an Ian Fleming or John le Carré novel. Indeed, the book itself contains an afterword from spy story master and The Night Manager author le Carré.
A Spy Among Friends will represent BritBox’s first drama commission in the UK after the ITV and BBC-owned outfit said high-end scripted would be an area of focus, and the latest high-profile project for Charter Communications’ Spectrum, which has moved into originals with such series as the Sony TV-produced L.A.’s Finest and the Mad About You revival.
British writer Cary created for television A Spy Among Friends through his overall deal at Sony Pictures TV. Nick Murphy, who has directed Sky’s Save Me and BBC/FX’s A Christmas Carol, will direct. Cary and Murphy exec produce, alongside Lewis, via his Rookery Productions shingle, West via his White Soup, and ITV Studios Creative Director Patrick Spence. Bob Bookman, Alan Gasmer, Peter Jaysen are executive producers for Veritas Entertainment Group, while Chris Clough (World on Fire) produces.
Deadline understands that A Spy Among Friends was due to go into production in the UK in September, but the shooting plan is currently up in the air because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on production schedules across the world. Lewis needs to complete filming on the last five episodes of Season 5 of Showtime’s Billions, whose production has been put on hold by the pandemic, before he can move on to other acting projects.
A Spy Among Friends reunites Cary and Lewis. Cary was a key co-executive producer/exec producer on the first four seasons of Showtime’s Emmy-winning thriller drama Homeland, the first three of which starred Lewis.
In addition to L.A.’s Finest, which has been renewed for a second season, and limited series Mad About You, the slate of Spectrum Originals, run by Katherine Pope, includes recent premieres Manhunt: Deadly Games and Josh Hartnett’s Southern Gothic drama Paradise Lost.