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Series / Reilly, Ace of Spies

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A 1983 ITV 12-episode Mini Series, exec produced by Verity Lambert, written by Troy Kennedy-Martin and based on a book about Sidney Reilly's life by the son of one of the main characters. Much of Reilly's life is unclear (he was a master of deception) and the accuracy varies - inevitable, given that the real Reilly's past is obscure to the point where even his birth name is doubtful! Some of the stuff is debated by historians, especially the "Zinoviev Letter", but any inaccuracies are largely from the source material, rather than Martin not doing the research.

It covers Reilly from 1901 to 1910, then moves to An Arc involving the "Ambassador's Plot" against the Bolshevik government in Russia in 1918.

Sam Neill plays the titular character and this reads a lot like a James Bond audition tape- he was later screen-tested for The Living Daylights. While he didn't get the Bond gig, however, Martin Campbell, who directed most of the episodes, did, directing two of the best-regarded instalments, Goldeneye and Casino Royale (2006). He also teamed up with writer Troy Kennedy-Martin again for another classic television serial, Edge of Darkness, a few years later.

This Mini Series contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: It would be more accurate to portray Sidney Reilly as a mercenary who worked for whatever side was willing to pay him, than a British master spy.
  • Addled Addict: Savinkov, whose severe morphine addiction is frequently mentioned.
  • All Asians Wear Conical Straw Hats: Some are seen on Chinese extras in Port Arthur, but they are of the more rounded chinese variety, rather than the truly conical Vietnamese style.
  • Anti-Hero: Reilly himself, as he is most often motivated by personal gain and RUTHLESS AS HELL!
  • Arms Dealer
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When Cummings is describing as to why Reilly is a dangerous man, he answers that's because he's a "pimp, murderer and a Jew".
  • Artistic Licence – History: Mansfield Smith-Cumming, aka "C", is strangely but consistently referred to as "Cummings" rather than "Cumming".
  • Awesome Music: the languidly romantic 'The Gadfly' by Shostakovich, said to be inspired by Reilly himself and hugely evocative of the crumbling Belle Epoque era the series is set against.
  • Blofeld Ploy
  • Extended Disarming: A rather understated, yet hilarious version. When Reilly and Savinkov attend the government hearing in Whitehall on their failure to overthrow Lenin, the aide at the front desk asks if they are carrying weapons. Reilly puts his Luger on the desk, while Savinkov pulls out a revolver and a Colt automatic. Then, after a brief pause, he makes a "Hang on a tic, forgot something" motion, and pulls a hand grenade out of his coat pocket.
  • Firing Squad: With a machine-gun.
  • Guns Akimbo: when the Cheka is storming the British embassy in Petrograd, Commander Cromie quietly informs Reilly and Hill that he will defend the embassy while they escape, then stands at the top of the stairs with two Colt 1911s, raining fire down on the Bolsheviks until they drag a heavy machine gun into the foyer to finish him off (in real life Cromie used a single pistol).
  • Historical Beauty Upgrade: Sam Neill is significantly more attractive than the real Sidney Reilly.
  • Incest Subtext: It's heavily implied that the reason Reilly's half-sister Anna kills herself in Episode Four is that she has fallen in love with him and she knows it's wrong.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Despite Reilly's many female love interests throughout the series, none of them are as remotely important to him as Boris Savinkov.
  • Oireland: Rosenblum changed his name to Reilly because, he notes, the Irish are welcome in every country in the world... except Britain. It allows him to pose as an anti-British Irish Nationalist or pro-British Irish Unionist depending on the need and disguises his Jewish roots (which would have made him an unacceptable leader in deeply anti-Semitic Russia).
  • The Plan: The Cheka decide to create an organisation that will put all the anti-Bolsheviks under one roof- where they control it. It almost works, until Stalin decides that it's too dangerous to run and arrests its members.
  • Properly Paranoid: Boris Savinkov may carry an arsenal wherever he goes and act like everyone's out to get him, but it's only because everyone IS either trying to kill him (the Russians) or is constantly hindering him (the British).
  • Spy Drama
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Commander Cromie's last stand at the British embassy in Petrograd pretty much takes the cake.
  • Tear Jerker: after Lenin is shot Reilly's girlfriends/assistants are taken out into the courtyard of the Lubyanka and executed by machine gun fire. Before they die the four link hands in a gesture of final comfort and human compassion.
  • Television Geography: The opening map is out of date in 1901, let alone 1925.
  • The Hero Dies: Reilly is shot dead at the end of the last episode.
  • Translation Convention: All spoken dialogue is in British-accented English. Written stuff is in its original language.
    • In "Endgame", a character mentions how everyone in Moscow is speaking in lower-class accent to avoid being targeted by the Bolsheviks as members of the bourgeoisie, and she does a Brief Accent Imitation of a Cockney.
  • Yellowface: In the Port Arthur episode, the Chinese police inspector is played by David Suchet. Suchet is of South African and Lithuanian-Jewish descent.