John le Carré’s A
Perfect Spy (British TV
Sound: C+ Extras: C- Episodes: B
Best known for his George Smiley series of books and their
adaptations like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (reviewed elsewhere on
this site), John le Carré has also seen his books go to the big screen
recently, including the underrated John Boorman-directed Tailor Of Panama
and disappointing-though-acclaimed Constant Gardener (reviewed elsewhere
on this site). Even Stanley Kubrick
loved his work, but could not find the novel he wanted to adapt before
passing. A Perfect Spy (1987) is
an ambitious seven-part adaptation of the ambitious book that traces the entire
life of Magnus Pym from childhood to his career as an adult agent (Peter Egan)
and how who he becomes is built back in his childhood.
Unlike many serious and more commercial Spy genre stories
where we only learn parts of any agents past in flashback, it is bold and
daring in it no holds barred take on a spy’s life. We can guess part of the reason this has not really been done
before is because a secret agent is supposed to be as mysterious and secret as
possible and this was made (unbeknownst to even le Carré) the end of The Cold
War, so this was particularly unprecedented at the time. As a result, it really holds up long after
that period has thankfully come to a close.
Part of the story here is that Pym does not have the
stable home life he could or should have had, resulting in two father figures
and living in a world of dysfunctional family (and pseudo-family) lies. Not unlike the son of Robert DeNiro in
DeNiro’s great and now haunting directorial debut A Bronx Tale (1993),
the young male is torn between a father figure who is good and one who is
strong, though not one that would seem to be an appropriate role model.
Arthur Hopcraft did the previous TV adaptations of many le
Carré books including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and has a knack for
getting the author’s style down pat.
However, he also understands the content and that makes all these
adaptations compelling and superior.
Peter Smith directed and has shown his skills with episodes of The
Sweeney, A Touch Of Frost, Kavanagh Q.C. and Midsomer
Murders (the latter three reviewed elsewhere on this site) and is in his
element here as well. Ray McAnally,
Alan Howard, Dame Peggy Ashcroft and Iain Cuthbertson co-star. It is nice to see all these talents come
together and mesh so well.
The 1.33 X 1 image has some color limits in that the color
is a bit dull and the detail has interference with slight digititis from a
transfer that looks like late analog PAL work.
Elmer Cossey did the solid cinematography. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is simple, with no surrounds, but is
clear and makes the shows more enjoyable.
Michael Storey’s music score is not bad. Extras include text bio of le Carré and cast filmographies,
though there is much more to be said about this story. If you were ga ga over The Constant
Gardener, you will not want to miss A Perfect Spy. If you like good storytelling that is really
thorough, than this can’t miss.
- Nicholas Sheffo