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A Perfect Spy [VHS] [1987]


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Product details

  • Actors: Ray McAnally, Rüdiger Weigang, Alan Howard, Peter Egan, Jane Booker
  • Directors: Peter Smith
  • Writers: Arthur Hopcraft
  • Format: PAL
  • Language: English
  • Classification: 15
  • Studio: BBC
  • VHS Release Date: 24 Jan 2000
  • Run Time: 374 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00004CLCN
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 243,811 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Product Description

Product Description

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.

From Amazon.co.uk

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

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Julian Hughes TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 30 Jan 2011
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I enjoyed reading the book and a few years later I enjoyed listening to the unabridged audiobook. Now I've finally watched the TV series and enjoyed that as well. It really does the book justice. A nice bonus is that the picture quality of this BBC DVD is fantastic, a lot better than you usually get with an old TV series, maybe the best I've seen of all the old Brit TV shows from the 70s, 80s and 90s. The picture quality is massively better than similar series such as Smiley's People or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Those have the full complement of artefacts of analogue videotape with blown highlights, noisy shadows, poor sharpness, low resolution, muddy colours and so on. When enjoying A Perfect Spy one is not distracted from the content by the limitations of the medium or presentation. I can't imagine a series like this making it to the screen these days. The first two episodes (55 minutes each) would probably be wrapped up in 15 minutes or rendered as narrative destroying flashbacks over the entire series in a modern version, but actually all the detail and content matters, and fortunately it is brilliantly executed. Every texture and nuance and event early in the story has repercussions later on. There isn't the amazing pace of a modern TV series, instead you have flavour and lasting satisfaction. Many performances are exceptional, none are less than very good.
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112 of 116 people found the following review helpful By Jehannum on 7 Mar 2007
Format: DVD
Peter Egan, the nominal star of this serial, makes his first appearance in episode 3. In the first two episodes we see his childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. The pacing is very slow at the beginning. Flashback sequences would have alleviated this, but the programme can be seen as an excellent antidote to the frantic cutting of modern television productions.

This role is Egan's best performance I have seen to date. In one scene he sits in a restaurant with his father and you see his attitude melt from bitterness to unwilling humour by facial expressions alone. Egan also impressively portrays the ambiguousness of the enigmatic Magnus Pym, an ambivalence that inhabits every part of his life - personal or professional.

By episode 5 the story is in full flow, and the building sense of unease compels you to watch. Magnus's life looks set to unravel. His spy bosses, his wife, even his young son begin to perceive what kind of man he is. Only Magnus's father accepted him for himself, for there is a subtle but clear similarity between them. Again, Peter Egan is convincing enough for you to lose yourself in the drama.

One of the most fascinatingly mysterious characters is Axel, who crops up throughout Pym's life and, it seems, will be a major force in his destiny.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By C. E. Druce on 10 Dec 2009
Format: DVD
This is first class stuff. The dramatisation of le Carre's novel brings out the many levels in the book and is certainly semi-autobiagrahical. The con-man and the spy are artfully combined in the plot and the acting is never less than brilliant. It appears to have dated very little over the years. It is a brilliant dramatisation of the effects that con-men and spies have on fiends and families. Vey absorbing.
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90 of 95 people found the following review helpful By P. KINCAID on 15 Sep 2000
Format: VHS Tape
I only leave off the fifth star because this is ultimately less satisfying than the previous LeCarre adaptations by the BBC. But it is still a towering achievement, especially when compared to the glossy but hollow dramas which which we must make do with nowadays. This is a powerful tale, almost Tolstoyan in its ambition: epic and intimate, specific and universal. My only qualm is over the aging of the actors: I suppose it always difficult to cast a story which follows a set of characters over several decades, but I do not feel that they solved it very well here. Some characters seem ageless, others prematurely aged. It's a small quibble, but a quibble none the less. TV is so much better a medium than film for adaptations of demanding fiction of this type that one wonders why it hasn't been exploited more often: Grahame Greene's work, for instance, would benefit from the treatment.
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80 of 85 people found the following review helpful By W. Hamilton on 26 May 2009
Format: DVD
This is just about a perfect spy story. Of the three Le Carre yarns given the BBC treatment, it could be said that "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is a "whodunnit" and "Smiley's People" a "howdunnit", while "A Perfect Spy" is a "whydunnit". The "why" question is usually the most interesting, which is why I rate this above the other, admittedly fine, productions. Peter Egan and Ray McAnally - father and son - are superb in every scene together, showing how two fundamentally different people can forge a single identity of deception, true only to each other in a dreadful way. The portrait of Magnus Pym is carefully and convincingly drawn: it could be said to represent not just a perfect spy, but a psychological template for every spy. The supporting cast of Alan Howard, Rudiger Weigang and Jane Booker, in particular, are terrific. The whole production showcases the best of a strong era for television drama in the UK.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Booksthatmatter on 16 Sep 2005
Format: DVD
The previous Le Carre adaptations lit up by Alec Guiness's near legendary performance as George Smiley make anything seem poor by comparison, which is a shame because this is a beautifully crafted series. It is by 2005 standards built rather slowly, but the way Pym unfolds towards his downfall is superbly managed. I think this TV series is actually about as close to the effect and quality of reading an absorbing book as you can get. There are no real fireworks in it - but it is very, very good.
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