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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
It's been a long time since I saw this mini-series and I am happy to say its remembered merits have withstood the test of time.
Most of the components of 'A Perfect Spy', the adaptation of LeCarré's finest novel, in my opinion, are top-drawer. Outstanding aspects of it are the musical score and the masterful screenplay, the latter written by Arthur Hopcraft who was also, I believe, the screenwriter for 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' with Alec Guinness a few years before.
The actors are mostly very good, some superb, like Alan Howard's Jack Brotherhood and Ray McAnally's Ricky Pym. Peter Egan is fascinating to watch because his face changes with every camera angle. The passage of time and the effects upon the physical appearances of the characters is very believably done. So much so that I wondered exactly how old Peter Egan was at the time of filming. The only jolt comes after the character of Magnus Pym is transferred from the very able hands of a young actor named Benedict Taylor to those of a noticeably too-old Peter Egan, just fresh out of Oxford. But this is a minor and unimportant seam in the whole.
Egan has trouble being convincing only when the text becomes melodramatic and he needs to be "upset" emotionally, ie cry. None of the actors have a very easy time with these moments, aside from the wonderful Frances Tomelty who plays Peggy Wentworth for all she's worth and steals the episode with ease.
Jane Booker is annoying as Mary Pym. She has part of the character under her skin but often displays an amateurish petulance that diminishes her as a tough cookie diplomatic housewife, which Mary Pym is. Rüdiger Weigang is splendid as Axel, amusing, ironic and brilliant. I also enjoyed Sarah Badel's camp turn as the Baroness.
The British view of Americans is vividly rendered in some dryly hilarious scenes. When the Yanks have come abroad to confab with Bo Brammell (head of MI6) the American contingent are portrayed as empty-headed buffoons who appear to have memorized a lot of long words out of the Dictionary and spiced them liberally with American jargon and psycho babble, much to the bemused scorn of the English.
The humor and sadness are subtly blended. LeCarré has a knack for mixing disparate elements in his stories and Hopcraft has brilliantly captured the melancholy, yet wistful, atmosphere of the original.
Not a perfect production (what is?) and yet the best of the LeCarré adaptations to reach film or television to date.
Highly recommended to all spy-thriller lovers and especially LeCarré fans. DVD available from Acorn.
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