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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 7 March 2007
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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on 30 January 2011
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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on 16 September 2005
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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on 10 December 2009
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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on 15 September 2000
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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on 26 May 2009
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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on 9 June 2005
This John Le Carre adaptation is almost as good as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, there's no legendary performances here but the screen play by Arthur Hopcraft and a strong cast make it a pleasurable viewing experience. The suspense and understanding the psychology of a spy builds through each episode and for such a slow paced film at times it really is surprising edge of the seat stuff. Just a quick note on Peter Egen, at first i had trouble not picturing him standing next to Richard Briers (Everdecreasing Circles) but once you get over this initial shock by the end you realise what good job he does for the part and that he is actually a rather splendid actor.
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on 4 February 2010
I am a great fan of Le Carre and, in particular, his spy and cold war material which I have re-read and watched many times. This BBC serial, being autobiographical material for David Cornwall (himself a spy and affected by the betrayals of Kim Philby and co) is an intriguing and helpful insight into the psychological profile of those involved in espionage.

It reminds me of Ricky Tarr in Tinker Tailor who says of himself to Smiley "my father thought he could beat the sin out of me, but he only beat it further in". Herein we see the influences that come to bear on young Pym as he grows and searches for identity, truth and meaning. As Axel says, he has loyalty, but to who? This story then is the journey of a man from cradle to grave, and the life that was stolen from him. I find his unravelling following Rick's demise absolutely fascinating, albeit his ending sad and lonely.

It is longer than the other BBC Le Carre adaptations but very worthwhile. For another reviewer who said it was a long movie, it isn't. This was a serialised production shown in weekly episodes so I suggest you plan to view over many sittings, letting the story sink in. I felt that the roles were mainly well cast, with only the change in actor for the teenage to adult Pym causing one to startle! Otherwise those who go the distance in character (Pym, Axel and Brotherhood) are excellent. Although short, the later scene with Sefton Boyd (Ian McNiece) is absolutely brilliant!)
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on 22 April 2017
Where to begin? The quality of the DVD is very poor, and seems to have been done on a Friday afternoon by someone who was mentally already in the pub. Visual quality and audio quality are poor. Secondly, it's very long, given the small number of important things which happen overall. Some episodes pass without ANY important things happening. Thirdly, there is a juddering disconnect between Magnus Pym versions one and two, and Magnus Pym version three. The first two are handsome blondes, and the third is a very ordinary looking brunette. Couldn't they have cast somebody who actually looked like the younger versions? Peter Egan, who plays Magnus Pym version three, is terrible. He seems to have three expressions: disinterested, grumpy and completely aghast. That's it. There is no nuance to his acting, which is set in stark relief the excellent acting of Rudiger Weigang, who plays the only interesting character in the whole piece, Axel/Poppy. It is hard not to revel in the mercurial and mesmerizing Weigangs performance, as there is nothing else going on. The portrayal of the main character, Magnus, is extremely choppy. We see him many scenes which don't seem to give us any insight at all into why he ended up as the supposedly perfect spy. We also have a huge hiatus during the middle twenty years of his career, which we are just expected to swallow without protest. That brings us to one of the most frequent annoyances of the directing- how the passage of time is dealt with. Over and over again, there are jarring sequences in disparate places with disparate people with years in between them! And no gentling of that passage by the director. The usual techniques for showing the passage of time are entirely absent. The relationship between Magnus and his father, a squalid war-profiteer and fraudster, is constantly portrayed, and yet there seems to be no increase in our insight into either character. Apart from a certain amount of embarrassment and shame associated with his fathers lifestyle, the nature of his father seems to inhibit his career in no way whatsoever. Neither does the terrible desertion of his mother by his father and her imprisonment in a mental asylum. In fact, by the end of the mini-series, you could be forgiven for asking, so what have we learned? And the answer is, nothing. Nothing in the background of Magnus Pym explains why he would devastate the security of Britain in such a profound way. We never get an answer to the most important question: why would this man betray his country, and other men not?
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on 2 January 2013
This is a lovely box set of the seven episodes that the BBC made of the adaptation of the John le Carre novel A Perfect Spy.
The series was made at a time when the BBC were producing really first rate material and not so budget strapped unfortunately like a lot of today's material. Beautifully acted and you get a real sense of the period from this great piece of work.
A difficult book to translate onto the screen but in this case very well done.
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