When top British secret agent Magnus Pym (Peter Egan) goes missing, the service has to employ another spy of equal calibre to track him down. Pym, meanwhile, has embarked on another kind of search, in an attempt to discover his true identity.
A Perfect Spy
is dramatised by Arthur Hopcraft, based on John Le Carré's novel of the same name and was first broadcast on the BBC in 1987. This six-hour trawl through the life of a British agent who mysteriously disappears takes in half a century and several sumptuous locations, including Prague and Vienna. It's more than a big, fat feast of spectacularly prestigious televisual drama, however. With its recurring motifs, splendidly realised minor as well as major characters (such as Peggy Ashcroft's seaside landlady) and advanced explorations of the themes of loyalty and betrayal, it is almost Dickensian in its scope.
Peter Egan plays Magnus Pym--whose entry into the world of espionage was prompted by his involvement in the dealings of his flamboyantly unscrupulous father, Ricky (the late Ray McAnally)--is a schemer without an honest bone in his body, though he and his son seem to bond extremely well. Duplicity becomes second nature to Magnus. He betrays everyone and everything close to him: his wife, his father, his country, even the high-ranking Eastern agent whom he befriends following the war and feeds secrets to. For him, this "treachery" isn't ideological but a reflex, a means of maintain his various "selves". Hence, he is the perfect spy. If Pym's bond with his father seems inexplicably intense, perhaps it's because A Perfect Spy is largely autobiographical. Le Carré's own father was a con man, while his mother, like Magnus's, disappeared early from his life. Not quite a perfect drama but richly compelling nonetheless. --David Stubbs