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This made for television movie, based on the three books Game, Set, Match, by Len Deighton, is one of the best spy dramas ever produced. Ian Holm is brilliant in his portrayal of the stoic but cunning Bernard Samson. If you are a Deighton fan, as well you should be, this is certainly the best adaptation of his work ever to appear in this media since Michael Caine starred in The Ipcress File and Funeral In Berlin. If you like spy thrillers, this a collector's item. It is certainly on par with "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and one can only hope that it will be made available on DVD. I'll keep my fingers crossed that such wisdom will strike those who own the copyright!
Like many of the other viewers, I was lucky enough to tape this when it originally played. Until now, I have been mystified as to why it has never (a) been re-run or (b) never put on VHS or DVD. The film was expertly acted and simply the most realistic film ever of its genre. It captured the essense of the times and the places in which it was filmed. It is a true disservice to past and potential viewers that this creation is not available except to those who have the old tapes that will eventually crumble into disuse. Considering some of the lesser efforts that Len Deighton produced later on, I cannot understand why he would object to this magnificent portrayal of Bernard Samson et al.
Others have done an excellent job summarising this fine
mini-series, so I won't bother going into details. I did want to
mention that, on a BBS devoted to Len Deighton's work, it was
mentioned (although not independently verified) that it was indeed
Deighton who kept the series from going to tape (or any other
subsequent medium) because of his displeasure with its
realisation (stupid temperamental writers!).
It was only by chance that I learned about the series the morning of the day the first episode was to air (unlike one of the other reviewers, I knew Ian Holm very well, first from Alien, and I just happened to notice his picture in the paper in an article previewing the series). I had the foresight to tape it, but missed getting the post-first-episode interview with Ian Holm (tape ran out), which I kick myself for to this very day.
I'm sure I'm not alone in stating that this series NEEDS to be on DVD, but until Deighton dies, this probably won't happen (and I am completely mystified as to what it was he objected to - the series brought every one of the characters to vivid, realistic life, was incredibly (though not slavishly) true to the books, and so enthralled me that I went out and bought all of Deighton's spy novels, even though I'd never read one before). Until then, those of us with tapes will continue to set aside 13 hours every year or so to enjoy this incredibly well-produced, well-acted, and well-told story, hoping each year as the tapes slowly corrode that Deighton will have a change (or massive infarction) of heart and let us have this series in all its glory on DVD...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Like the previous reviewer, I have seen this series only once at it's
original airing -- I've hoped in vain to find it on tape or DVD since! After
I saw this series I read Deighton's Game, Set, Match trilogy and that made
me realize that it was Ian Holm's portrayal of Bernard Sampson that made
Most spy thrillers feature loners of one kind or another. These people live lives where duplicity is their stock and trade. You can't really have a family hanging around if you're going to try to fool all of the people of all of the time -- I mean your family has seen it all! So spy heros are usually disconnected from normal human relationships. Some are as cartoonish as James Bond (can you even *imagine* what Bond's mother would be like?). Some are as rich and textured as George Smiley. But invariably, these are men apart.
Not Bernard Sampson. Bernard is one of us. Not only does he have family, he has family TROUBLE. His beautiful wife Fiona has just defected to the East Germans. When you're a British agent that is seriously embarrassing. And she was a spoiled rich girl from a better class and much more money. Her father is big in the establishment, of course he really blames Bernard. Why not? Bernard is not from the right kind of family after all. He grew up in Berlin of all places and he never had the sort of money that breeds good manners and gets you into the right school.
Bernard's messy marital problems are just what his simpering, bureaucratic boss Dickie needs to make sure that Bernard's career doesn't rise to threaten his own. And it would if Dickie couldn't find a way to keep him down, because Bernard is the last true professional at MI6. He knows the spy game from beginning to end. From the messy killings to the scary skull-duggery to the boring stakeouts he lives this life in a way that his nicer superiors can only imagine. And perhaps they sense it because they don't trust him at all.
And under it all Bernard keeps going. He is a dedicated father. He STILL loves Fiona (she has a strange way of showing up suddenly for parental visits). And he knows that he'll never have the career that others may enjoy but he still can't refuse to do the work when he knows that no one else can.
On paper, in the Deighton books, Bernard is an interesting variant on the classic British spymaster. Portrayed by Ian Holm he's hauntingly real. Even now, some 13 years after seeing the series I can still see his craggy face and his tired walk. The terrible betrayal of his wife sits on his shoulders like the weight of the world. But his eyes were like cold metal probes. He was always the one who saw the most, understood the most. And because he was also the only real pro, he was the one left to do the dirty work.
I have never tired of watching this excellent series since it was first aired back in the eighties. I had the foresight to tape every episode and always try to watch as much of it as I can when it's good old entertainment I'm looking for. Great settings - Mexico, Berlin. For historical value its great to see all the scenes filmed in the vicinity of the Berlin Wall when cold war tension was high. The perfomances of all the actors bring Deighton's characters to life - Bernie, Werner, Fiona, Dickie etc. are all portrayed very well.
It has been quite awhile since I saw this series - 1987 or 1988 when I lived in the USA. It was on PBS MYSTERY and no other TV series has captured my attention - and admiration - as this ten art series did. Thought I had the story all worked out until the last series of course. made me read the second trilogy - Hook, Line and Sinker (there are place names to it as well but I forget them. I here Mr D bought the copyright to the all the films - pity. Never seen a better mystery since. Sir Ian was a wonderfully confused Bernard and the various other characters from his wife, his girlfriend, Silas, whomever were all played out exceptionally well. Locations - or so it appeared were bang-on as well. The Smiley series is great (the Sir Alec for sure), this ranks just as good at a minimum.
I agree with everyone who says that this series was the best of the 'spy' genre. My husband and I were captivated by it when it first aired in the US and watched every episode. I tried at that time to purchase the series (I did tape all of it) but was told by WGBH that it was not available. I even considered writing to Ian Holm to see if he might have a copy! Like others, I purchased and read the Deighton series (in part to understand the complicated plot.) If the original version ever comes available on DVD, I'll be among the first in line to snap up a copy. Ian Holm's portrayal of the vulnerable but courageous Bernard Samson was amazing. (He is always amazing.)
this i well remember. it was later . some years later that it has
become a cult favorite. Deighton may not have like it( the movie) but i
felt it was one of the great adaptation
a classic. a great movie that parallels the book . am willing also along with many others, i see, willing to paid for it. It will require Granda TV to release it in DVD or some enterprising person. the suspense builds and leaves many questions. Much better than the shoot em up mindless prater that comes out now. A number of fans are waiting for the go - ahead to buy a DVD. it will be a instant best seller. It is better than Soldier, Sailer...etc..
i have obtained the DVD of it .now available. the sound is excellent , better than the original. video is acceptable. three years later . i actually pulled out the DVD last night and started watching it again. strange as i have gotten use to high def and this is plain DVD. the sound is terrific and the nuance is far superior to anything on the market.
i am taking bids and if anyone is near Baltimore or Washington you are welcome to preview for the quality i stated. email me with bids . obviously no copies of this can be made as i suspect that is against the law.
Readers of this threat might light to know that there was first word
surfacing in March 2009, through Deighton's publishers and marketing
people, that as part of the 80th birthday year re-issues of his books,
there was the idea of a re-filming of the Game, Set and Match books by
ITV; not reshowing the 1988 series, but re-shooting it. No more details
than that, but it's a sign. Though how they'd do the filming without a
Berlin Wall or East Berlin in site would be interesting. Still, we live
I featured this on my blog, which links to my Deighton Dossier fansite, if anyone wants to go there for more details.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This series got me into Deighton's writing and the genre when I was younger and I love this presentation of the story. I would however disagree with the above comment. From what I have read in the past, it is not Holm's performance that lead Deighton to refuse to have the series released but the butchering that all three books received in the translation to the screen. A great example of this is the rewrite of the boarder crossing that ended Samson's field career. The scene is not in the book, the character who dies in the minefield was never in any of the books and the crossing in Sinker was from East Germany to West Germany, not the Polish frontier. This whole storyline is cloth. The changes in Set similarly damage the integrity of the story. My perspective on Holm's performance was that he portrayed the disorientation of Samson during his wife's defection excellently and I believe comported himself well in portraying the aging field agent desperately trying to bridge the class divide. Samson both pays for his father's idealism and suffers due to its influence on his life. As Clevemore comments, had he gotten himself an education he would have probably been running the department. I think the true loss of performance is due to physical appearance more than anything. Holm is diminutive when compared to the Samson of the book - a physically impressive man capable of using his size to impose a presence.
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