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Reilly - Ace Of Spies [DVD]
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 April 2012
This is a very fun, if largely apocryphal, version of many of the key events that shaped the 20C. You have a mysterious man, Reilly, who pops up where something absolutely decisive is happening. Ostensively a British agent, he mixes self-enrichment, his personal life, and politics in machinations that can only be called guileful, ruthless, and for the most part effective. He is one of those ambiguous figures that appear at historical turning points, sparking endless debates about whether they are blatant opportunists or the simplest of idealists. You could compare him to Alcibiades, Wallenstein, or perhaps Richard Clarke. The man is a walking paradox - brilliant and passionate, yet perhaps also a greedy sociopathic visionary - and the best part of it is, Sam Neill pulls it off with complete believability, with a stellar group of lesser-known character actors.

In terms of plot, Reilly is present for the early maneuvering to gain access to oil - the key to industrialization and mechanized warfare, the bases for 20C power - and then is a player in the Russo-Japanese war, a maintenance worker who steals German shipping blueprints (and an industrialist who does the same thing), and finally a (counter?) revolutionary in the transition of Russia into the Soviet Union. This is a fun and fascinating view into these events, a re-rendering that reminds the viewer that none of these things was set in stone for the history books but could have turned out very differently. To me as a history buff, it makes it come alive in the most wonderful way. Of course, no one knows if Reilly did all these things, so this can only be taken as fiction, but you witness Lenin, Stalin, and a parade of British politicians and bureaucrats and many others.

Along the way, Reilly introduces new methods into the British secret service, legitimizing the most ruthless manipulation of people in the cause that he is currently championing. For example in one episode (***spoiler alert***), while apparently out of the spy business and a financier in Russia, he seduces a married aristocrat, who wants to divorce in order to marry him; Reilly then pays off her husband with a settlement, who happens to be Defense Minister in the Tzar's government, legitimizing a commercial agent Reilly needs, and pulls off the "arms deal of the century", gaining intelligence for the British, beating an old rival, and hugely enriching himself at the same time. Some cry scandal (he is already married), others see genius.

Neill also creates a fascinating character that is revealed slowly throughout the entire series. It is a masterpiece of subtlety and moral ambiguity that is never reduced to a simple formula, but stands as an enigma. The ending is a surprise, yet so typically Reilly. That makes it excellent drama. The sets are also period perfect, evoking a vanished world.

My wife and I are embarking on a viewing of British spy films, kind of the mirror view of my love of mafia film. This is up there with Smiley's People. Recommended with enthusiasm.
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VINE VOICEon 14 June 2007
. . may live to spy another day, but unlike James Bond, Sidney Reilly is (or was) a mortal spy, not a cardboard one. His enemies (and those of the West for most of the last century) actually got him in the end (1925). Knowledge of this fact, and that Reilly (aka Sigmund Rosenblum of Odessa) was actually employed by the Secret Intelligence Service and played a significant, if covert, part in world events only enhances the suspense of this excellent series, which one does not want to end the way it did in real life.

Part "007 for the Educated," and part "Upstairs-Downstairs" in spirit, this series follows the adventures of the "Ace of Spies," against the backdrop of history, from 1900 until 1925. The series, in fact, would make an excellent teaching tool for a high school or college World History class, when annotated by a history instructor. From the 1904 Japanese sinking of the Russian fleet at Port Arthur in Manchuria, through the Russian Revolution of 1917, until Stalin's paranoic ascendency in the 1920's, the viewer is treated to a "rippng yarn" in which the historic connivings of the Usual Suspects for oil, arms and power (What else?) is one of the most fascinating aspects. We even have a "good Bolshie" (sort of) in the persona of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka (later the KGB), and "bad Bolshie" in that of Joseph Stalin (You were expecting, maybe, Kim Philby?). At any rate, the series is gripping from beginning to end.

Yes, the quality of the color is on the sepia side, but this defect (if it is a deliberate one) contributes to the "historical" ambience of "Reilly." I also began to wonder whether the Moscow of Lenin & Co. was really as spic and span as presented (but then, I may have been influenced by the propaganda of the last century that suggests otherwise). I was, however, less than impressed by the makeup: Leo McKern's nose, in particular, kept changing shape and color, until in his last scenes, it just looked like what it was: putty. Furthermore, the maquillage on Reilly's first wife, who was supposed to be fifty, with clown white under her eyes, and black shadow on her cheeks, was amateurish. These flaws, however (for which I have witheld a star), are but flyspecks on the panorama of an otherwise splendid series.
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on 19 October 2017
I had actually watched this before and been impressed by the way it captures the times in which it is set and how Reilly is a complex character, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes disturbingly ruthless; it was on TV the academic year I sat my O Levels. I think the Radio Times did a cover article which mentioned Sam Neill's other work such as playing Damien in THE FINAL CONFLICT, which had been advertised at the cinema the day I went to see CLASH OF THE TITANS in 1981 which was the year after THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and FLASH GORDON and the day after my dad had given me a book about biblical prophecy (some of my classmates later accused me of being the Antichrist and asked the school chaplain to exorcise me and my desk; he refused but at some point he gave an assembly in which he said that James Bond was the Antichrist). As I was growing up my mum had copies of THE GREEK MYTHS Parts 1&2 by Robert Graves and all the James Bond books in the living-room and so when Reilly is asked whether he knows who Prometheus was in the first episode, I found that very interesting, particularly with reference to attitudes to controlling knowledge and psychoanalysing those who are excessively secretive, oppressive and repressive (I find aspects of the Greek Flood myth in which Prometheus warns his son Deucalion that Prometheus's cousin Zeus is planning to flood the Earth very interesting, not just because of Jesus and John the Baptist being cousins and because of what REVELATION says about Pergamum). I also loved the music especially THE GADFLY by Shostakovich. A gadfly features in the story of Io who also encountered Prometheus in Greek mythology. This TV series had a profound impact on me when I first saw it and I have enjoyed watching it again although some of it is upsetting.
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on 24 January 2013
1) Amazon used this same illustration and labeled it "DVD" so when a set of VHS arrived at our home address we were bitterly disappointed. Amazon stated that the item was unavailable and had no knowledge of a re-issue date or indeed if it would ever be re-issued. Amazon web site directed us to an Amazon affiliate and so we purchased the item on the basis of the illustration. Yes we know the saying "Buyer be ware!". Nevertheless we had an expectation that was dashed - all because of Amazon's VHS illustration being labeled DVD! Yes we suppose it was our own fault. But we have a nasty taste still lingering.
2) Since they were VHS and not DVD we consider that the price that we paid was to high.
3) Further, as to the use of the set - we never will use it. The one tape we attempted to view was in poor condition and picture definition was so bad that we have simply abandoned further use of the set. Perhaps our little used VHS player was the problem - we simply cannot be bothered with the set any more.
4) All tapes in the set were not rewound some had been played. only part way through thus did we decide that the product description was not accurate.
5)While there was but minor damage to the slip case and consequently one VHS case the item was, nevertheless, packaged in an extremely amateurish fashion.
All in all we will never again purchase an item from an Amazon recommended affiliate.
The ordered items:- Paradise Postponed, Call the Midwife -series 2, Call the Midwife Christmas Special, The Honest Courtesan, and Downton Abbey: A Journey to the Highlands (Christmas Special 2013) Have not yet arrived.
All other items received in the past have been most satisfactory. signed Roslyn and Peter Batten
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on 16 June 2013
An interesting period in our history, great cast of actors, which took in the great dramatic sweep of the start of the 20th century
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on 24 February 2006
I was a wee girl of 12 when this series first aired on ITV, but I remember it well for two main reasons:
1) It made me fall in love with Sam Neill.
2) It made me fall in love with Shoshtakovich.
Probably due to not owning a VHS player in 1983, I only had one shot at soaking this all in at the time it was aired.
Imagine then, my immense chuffed-ness at discovering all 13 episodes were to be released in wondrous DVD box setted glory!
From its supremely evocative music - (persons of a certain age might remember Terry Wogan announcing Shoshtakovich on his radio show as the theme from 'Reilly - Ace of Mince Pies' tsk!) - through to the calibre of the cast, everything about 'Reilly' was and is, quality drama.
The costumes are works of art in themselves, and the London locations do a marvellous job doubling for pre-Perestroika Russia.
Even before 1985's much-praised 'Edge of Darkness' Troy Kennedy Martin showed flashes of brilliance in his adaption of Robin Bruce Lokhart's book for TV.
Kennedy Martin keeps his script taut and sharp and as such, we are not bogged down with the myriad convolutions of counter espionage.
In 'Anna'(episode 3) we even get to see a little of what drives Reilly. His explanation to his half-sister of a loveless relationship with his Father, and the disappointment of discovering his illigitemacy - fleshes the bones of this most elusive character.
Sam Neill's portrayal of Sidney Reilly is pretty near perfect. (Biased? Moi..) A soft spoken, consummate con-man - even the rare flash of rage is controlled, which makes his Reilly all the more memorable for being so minimalist.

It's also a treat to see Peter Egan before his incarnation as 'Ever Decreasing Circles' perfect Paul.
If you liked 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' 'Cambridge Spies' or even 'Another Country' - do yourself a favour...
Sit back, put these DVD's on and Ace them Reilly style.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 June 2011
I had been tempted to buy this series for some time only being put off by my indifference to Sam Neill's acting. When I finally took the plunge was I made to look the fool!!!

This is an excellent series that has not dated (it was made in the 80's). Sam Neill is a revelation to me in that he brought the main character alive. I was also appreciative of the fact that, whilst the story line through the series was continuous, each episode could be viewed without the need to re-look at the previous episode to understand events (modern series writers please note!!).

My only 'complaint' is the reference to "The World's First International Super Spy" in the title. The series doesn't need such wording.

Excellent viewing and highly recommended.
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on 30 July 2010
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on 7 July 2016
Though I bought this DVD set quite a long time ago, viewing one of the episodes last night has prompted me to finally write this review. The story telling, acting and production values are excellent and well up to the standard expected from Euston Films. The quality of the DVD, however, is abysmal. Like most TV drama made at that time the film stock would have been 16mm and TV drama wasn't/isn't always lit to the same standards as feature films. Therefore interiors always look as if the stock has been 'pushed' and the effect is a degree of grain. Unfortunately, the creation of the DVD, and its compression, has amplified all the weaknesses inherent in the original stock and the effect is a severely degraded image - especially during interior, low-light scenes. Exteriors are a bit better but the overall quality is still poor. This is clearly a series that begs for a decent high-end scan and publication on Blu-Ray.
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on 29 January 2015
Interesting stories, good acting.
Video was so-so.
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