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This is the story of Magnus Pym, from his childhood to the end of his career in middle age. As a young man, there is little doubt that his father Rick was the most influential character in his life. Rick was a raconteur, con man, thief, black marketer and all in all, simply larger than life. From a young age, Rick included Magnus in his schemes and the young man learned that you would do anything for the ones you love. When a university student in Switzerland, Pym meets the other person who will have the greatest influence in his life, Axel, a Czech refugee. As Pym enters his career in the British Secret Service, his relationship with Axel and the values he developed in childhood lead him down his own path of betrayal and loyalty. Written by
If Smiley's People and Tinker Tailor Spy were about the "how" of espionage, A Perfect Spy is about the "who".
Whereas the first two were essentially two long investigations, A Perfect Spy, which begins as a non-linear story line in the novel, is about the socio-psychological components of what goes into making a spy.
While those who have read the book will find this adaptation surprising, it is also one of the finest. The story is linear, starting with a young Magnus, his con father, and his acolytes.
The background of the series is about the issue of what I would call inverted loyalties. Time and again, we see Magnus' relationship with his father as one where the former is criminally tolerant and indulgent, as any son with a deranged father might. During Magnus' childhood, and through his mentoring by Jack Brotherhood, we see an individual with divided loyalties, but seemingly true to both.
What this creates for the viewer is the impression that the good guys are actually bad, and vice versa, without resorting to any literary or artistic device. For example, we see immediately that Axel is initially harmless, but while he does something objectionable, nevertheless remains very attaching. For Magnus, it is the same. The buildup of his character during childhood only strengthens our sympathy for him. The reality is only revealed when Egan's character towards the end, when the Americans are catching on) starts to decompose.
To my taste, the series spends too much time on the childhood of the hero character. There are also devices taken from the book that are clearly unnecessary for the series (the green filing cabinet for example), and the relationship with Brotherhood could have been expanded, for the sake of balance with that of Axel Hampel.
Not to be sexist, but the women in the series are simply annoying. Also, their role in Magnus', Jack's professional lives and the spy craft is merely as sex-pots, which doesn't always conform to the zeitgeist. Although this was perhaps truer in the 1970s, when the novel's action was taking place. Also, some people don't seem to age, yet, they've been apparently working since the end of WW2; i.e. Jack Brotherhood, from 1947 to 1987 without a grey hair...
Overall, however, we see compelling acting. Egan, MacAnally, Weigang at the summit of their art.
The last ten minutes of the series is the finest acting ever filmed or seen.
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