2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
evocative and fun, if a bit thin on content,
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This review is from: Cambridge Spies [DVD]  (DVD)
My British friends relish spy stories and have initiated me into their intricacies. This led me to begin collecting the BBC productions, which include such outstanding titles as Smiley's People. With this, I think that the best is definitely in the past: the script has many holes, providing little solid information about what made these guys tick. It also takes a rather sympathetic view of them as ambitious, youthful idealists, attracted to communism mostly as a way to fight fascism. Oddly, it glosses over much of the real damage that they did, such as Philby's exposure of a counter-insurgency in Albania that cost hundreds of lives in an ambush. Overall, it is stimulating and well acted with evocations of history, a good if not prime addition to a film library.
The story begins with the 4 as students. They are rambunctious - the cold Blunt and flamboyant Burgess are overt homosexuals - while Philby is a womanizer; only McLean appears shy and introspective. After some hesitation, they band together and subordinate their lives to spying for the USSR. The personal conflicts and tragedies that this double life caused form the crux of the plot - lost love, stress leading to alcoholism, etc. Another theme is the old-boys British public school culture, whereby those of the right breeding and class can enter into the elite when they chose to do so: all you need is the "right tie". The elite also closes ranks on certain questions, such as the loyalty of the Cambridge grads, letting them escape.
As a result, what they actually did and even what motivated them at the deepest levels is largely left vague. I was disappointed because I wanted to learn much more. It also falls between genres, i.e. it isn't suspense, isn't history, and lacks the intrigue that makes spy stories such a fun puzzle. Recommended with these caveats.