Thursday, February 24, 2005

Reilly: Ace of Spies

For my money, the best TV "mini-series" ever was Reilly: Ace of Spies, first broadcast in 1983 on PBS's "Mystery." Starring Sam Neill, who later appeared in such things as Jurassic Park and The Hunt for Red October, the 12-episode series dramatized the real-life story of Sidney Reilly, a charming but ruthless freelance spy for the British government from, oh, 1900 to his execution in Russia in 1925. The first six shows detail Reilly's efforts to secure the West's access to oil in the Middle East (shades of, well, today!), and they're extraordinary. But the series really takes off during its final half, when Reilly goes head-to-head against Lenin, then Stalin, while trying to (almost singlehandedly) overthrow the Bolsheviks after the Russian revolution through assassination attempts against Lenin, then Stalin.

I watched Reilly when it first aired on PBS in the '80s, videotaped it, watched and rewatched those poorly recorded tapes for a decade, then bought the "official" boxed set of five VHS tapes when they were released about seven years ago. I've watched those so many times that they've begun to deteriorate.

Happily, A&E Home Video this week released Reilly: Ace of Spies in a nice box of four DVDs, which includes a 25-minute bonus documentary, "Life of Reilly: Superspy," from A&E's Vanishings series. Anyone interested in European history, the corruption of governments, shady weapons dealers, and unscrupulous espionage agents must see this series. You'll find it fascinating. What's more, you'll learn something.

I give Reilly: Ace of Spies FIVE STARS (out of five).


At 7:11 PM, Blogger bkmarcus said...

I watched this back in the 1980s, too.

I seem to remember someone on PBS saying that Reilly was one of Ian Fleming's inspirations for James Bond.

For the BBC's latest takes on espionage, see Cambridge Spies (for something more like Reilly) and Spooks* (for something more like 007).

I recommend them both.


* In the US, the show Spooks is called MI-5 -- yawn.

At 8:55 PM, Blogger Wally Conger said...

I, too, heard that Reilly was an inspiration for 007.

As for MI-5, from what I've seen of it, it's an awfully good show. No "spy glamour" there.


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