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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Action > Adventure > TV > A Perfect Spy (Acorn DVD/British Mini-Series)

John le Carré’s A Perfect Spy (British TV Mini-Series)


Picture: C     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


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