"A Perfect Spy" was the third of Britisher John LeCarre's cold war spy novels to be filmed for television by the British Broadcasting Company. As they generally did at that time, they threw money at the screen: script by the talented Arthur Hopcraft, who'd previously done the honors for the same author's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," and "Smiley's People;" location filming in glamorous places, extras and cars galore. Yet it's just not the same "must-see tv" as its stablemates. Magnus Pym, played by Peter Egan, is here the perfect spy, double-dealing with zest. We are apparently supposed to think he's like this because his father Rik(Ray McAnally, who died soon after filming was completed) was an outside-the-law confidence trickster who enjoyed his work, and maybe that is enough to explain the son's behavior, who knows. It's certainly noticeable that most viewers will not find either main character particularly likeable;whereas Rik and his troops seem at least always to be having a good time, Magnus is portrayed as being a nasty little boy from the beginning. Interestingly enough, we must assume this material is intensely personal to its author. He's described his own father as a conman, and both author and his character Magnus have studied and worked in the German-speaking world. In fact, he's repeated these elements in several books, as he's repeated the seaside hideout, even the nickname "Tiger," here, used by father to son; in "Single and Single," the conman father is called "Tiger" himself. So why doesn't it work? To begin with, it's seven episodes, the riveting "Tinker" and "Smiley" are only six. And the other two series have many sharply-drawn, memorable characters, plus attention-grabbing plots. There are many fewer characters here, they're not nearly as flavorful, and the plot, especially as it's a downer, doesn't really seem to need so many episodes. Furthermore, aside from McAnally, and Dame Peggy Ashcroft in an important supporting role, the Beeb seems to have stinted on the leading and supporting roles. Many of these actors are just not as expressive as they could be. A lot of viewers might find they are tempted to forget that third disk.
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