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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > British TV > Mini-Series > Reilly - Ace Of Spies (British Mini-Series)

Reilly – Ace Of Spies (British Mini-Series)

 

Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Episodes: B-

 

 

When one hears of something being “better than James Bond” or “the original James Bond” or what happened before “James Bond” was so much more exciting, you automatically can expect some elitist garbage or some total bore.  There are rare exceptions, but it is usually a big fraud.  One of the more successful attempts to do a Spy genre work that predates James Bond long after the fact is the 1983 British Mini-Series Reilly – Ace Of Spies with Sam Neill in the title role of Sidney Smiley.  Based on the Robin Bruce Lockhart book, the series runs 12 episodes, as follows:

 

1)     An Affair With A Married Woman

2)     Prelude To War

3)     The Visiting Fireman

4)     Anna

5)     Dreadnoughts & Crosses

6)     Dreadnoughts & Doublecrosses

7)     Gambit

8)     Endgame

9)     After Moscow

10)  The Trust

11)  The Last Journey

12)  Shutdown

 

 

Sam Neill had often been considered for the role of Bond and two years prior to this series, was stuck in The Final Conflict, a dreadful second sequel to The Omen that simply did not know what to do with itself.  He played “Son Of Satan” Damien Thorn, but the film took to long to make, and longer to watch.  However, Neill “aces” this role well, putting himself back on the map to some well-deserved stardom.  Until his disappearance, Reilly was hugely successful and few known agents have had his success since, which is not just because of more competition later or the later influx of technology.  This series is not filled with stunts or gadgets, but does have some good storytelling to offer, close enough to history without becoming too melodramatic.

 

The drama we do get sometimes drags and there could have been some editing here and there.  However, these productions try to be faithful to the book, so that kept fans and readers happy.  The more well known co-stars include Leo McKern, Jeananne Crowley, Hugh Frazer and John Rhys-Davies, who was luckier than Neill in 1981 by appearing in Raiders Of The Lost Ark.  Jim Goddard directed the first installments, while future James Bond director Martin Campbell (1995’s GoldenEye) took on the rest of the series.  Campbell, who has had a spotty directing career at best, does deliver the better installments, but Goddard is not that far behind.  The result is that their work coheres enough to enjoy the show.

 

The titles of the shows do not give away too much, but the tale begins with his work in Russia involving intelligence over their oil fields and reserves.  His reputation was good to start with and this operation put him over the top, so his career was on the way.  Thus, his adventure and odyssey began.  The show holds up very well long after the end of The Cold War and in an age where “terrorism” is the catchphrase for the new dangers of the world.  Reilly – Ace Of Spies is a must-see for Spy fans and bookworms in particular, and decent program everyone can appreciate.

 

The full frame 1.33 x 1 image was shot on film by cinematographer Peter Jessop and processed by Rank Films.  The prints are in good shape and A&E/New Video have done their best to produce the clearest, most detailed transfer DVD can offer.  Jessop shot episodes of the last color seasons of The Avengers (see the Linda Thorson episodes reviewed elsewhere on this site), then went on to feature films like the Horror thriller Venom (1971, with a former Avengers director) and the Reggae classic The Harder They Come (1972) with Jimmy Cliff.  Back to TV in later years, the scenes here have a solid density that brings the time and locations alive.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound is simple stereo with no Pro Logic surrounds, but sounds good for its age.   The music by Harry Rabinowitz is mixed at best, but dialogue is clear enough.  The only extra is a terrific installment of A&E/The History Channel’s Vanishings series form 2002 called Life of Reilly, The Super Spy, which should always be watched after you have seen the series.  Without commercials, it runs just over 20 minutes, but is a great epilogue to the series.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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