Reilly: Ace of Spies (TV Mini-Series 1983) Poster

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Spies with Substance
dr_foreman14 January 2006
"Reilly: Ace of Spies" is the most realistic treatment of international espionage that I've ever seen - probably, of course, because Reilly was a real person. His exploits are doubtless exaggerated here, but perhaps not too exaggerated. The scripts certainly seem realistic, and that's the important thing.

What the series does best is recreate the early 20th century in incredible detail. The lavish sets and costumes establish a wonderful period "look," while the dialogue and narration work well together to outline the era's politics, major concerns, and even technology. There's a lot of exposition, but it never feels dry.

Throughout the first half of the series, Reilly changes locations and missions frequently, ensuring that the episodes always feel fresh. The second half is dedicated entirely to Reilly's ambitions in Russia. I'm not sure which half I prefer - they're both satisfying in different ways.

My only problems with the series are minor ones. David Suchet is a great actor, but he's unmistakably European, and it bothers me to see him play a Chinese character in the second episode. I also think Margaret, Reilly's first wife, has a very drippy persona. That might be intentional, but nevertheless, I can only take her in small doses.

Otherwise, this is a faultless historical thriller. Sam Neil really is superb as Reilly; he manages to convey complex emotions while overall maintaining a tough-guy exterior. The supporting cast is solid, and the historical figures who appear, especially Lenin and Stalin, come across as convincing and extremely charismatic.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this series is that Reilly often employs ruthless means to achieve his ends. This means that he's not always sympathetic; sometimes, the series allows you to hate its protagonist. That's pretty bold TV-making, in my opinion, and I quite respect it.
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History in all its dark dramatic glory
lostein12 December 2002
Sex, murder, intrigue, moves and countermoves, all the stuff that really juicy mini-series are made of...and its a true story. The original introduction that ran with the PBS showing stated that Ian Fleming used Sidney Reilly as the basis of James Bond. Sidney, as played by the great Sam Neill certainly embodies all the trademark qualities of that later spy...a way with a gun and the ladies, a wry sense of humor and a cold, calculating methodolgy. The series covers the time period of the Great Game, when Europe, Russia and England tried to out move each other in access to the newly emerging oil fields of the Middle East. Echoes of that period - approximately (forgive my fading memory) 1895 to 1922 - are still bouncing around the world. Sam Neill is extraordinary as the first great professional spy who set the standard for those who came after, changing it from a gentleman's game to a deadly serious career path. I remember watching some news footage at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union. The reporter said that people were tearing down a statue of the founder of the KGB in front of its Headquarters. "Felix Derzhinsky in front of the Lubianka Prison!" I called out to the TV... I knew because of having watched its birth in Sidney Reilly... eventually, the news got it right. If you love history and great drama...this is for you.
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Forget James Bond, this is the REAL DEAL
Linda_S5 March 2009
I would think that anyone who watches this series and then compares it to the last 10 years or so of James Bond films will easily be able to discern serious story telling from CGI cluttered inanity.

I was mesmerized by this series and IMMEDIATELY became a fan of Sam Neil.

The sets, the wardrobe, all first rate. The supporting cast, as is so often the case with these British entries, is superb.

The direction is better than on most big budget action films and really The best espionage story ever told.

While I did enjoy Sean Connery and the earliest of Bond films this is the real deal, and Sam Neil is, forever, the man who Ian Fleming called the real James Bond.

Leave it to the Brits to get it right.
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Even better than I remember
dublin99 April 2005
Back in 1983, my wife and myself watched a 12 part series on TV. My wife thought it was very good. I thought it was excellent. The leading roll was played by an actor named Sam Neil who played the master spy Sidney Reilly as if he were made for the part.

For two decades, I spoke about this series and spent the last of these years waiting for the DVD.

Well, we've viewed the four disk DVD set and I can tell you that Reilly Ace of Spies is even better than I remembered. My wife (a critical reviewer) was just as impressed... far more so than she was some two decades ago.

I won't go into a plot explanation of this series because you can read the bio of Sigmund Rosenblum (aka Sidney Reilly) in many movie reviews and several books. What I can say is that the series very closely parallels what was written about him.

Worthy of note is the acting of Sam Neil, who reached his acting peak in this initial major work.

Mr. Neil (not normally known for his dynamic theatrical presence) played his roll with a versatility that moved easily from calm sophistication to blistering intensity. Keep track of his eyes. They speak with a communicative clarity that he has rarely been equaled.

I'm giving this DVD series a never bestowed (by me) 10 out of 10. A Must see and a classic work.
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Superb series, one of the best of its kind. No, the best.
smokehill retrievers22 October 2001
Fabulous work by Neill, as usual, in this early work. This series, for the most part historically accurate, covers the almost unbelievable espionage/covert ops careers in history by a man virtually unknown until this series ran. Fascinating perspectives on the political machinations going on in Europe & Asia at the time, most of which Sidney Reilly was involved in at one time or another. This is almost never seen since its initial few runs on PBS, but if it comes back, do NOT miss it. I wish I had taped it now....
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tedg4 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I was very impressed by this. It is just about the only miniseries (meaning one story in several episodes) from TeeVee that I can recommend. (The other is the amazing "Singing Detective.")

Perhaps the primary element that attracts is how complex it was. I was often confused, and loved the fact that reality was not simplified. It probably still was at that, and at the same time certain characters made more complex than they probably were.

Since the thing was based on reality and true global intrigue, it avoided formula. We get so used to the writing conventions, that we lose sight that what matters as stories in life rarely are the same as stories that work in film. There were some false moments to be sure — for instance his assistant who turns on him. We are seduced by her in the way that teeVee allows: we see her breasts. She is a red, the only such in the story. He is seduced at the same moment. In a day he is murdering her for treachery and establishing images that will factor in his own death. Its too pat, too simply clear.

But overall its true. Its grand, mixed up, contradictory. It as a narrative takes no stance as to which of the groups we are supposed to align ourselves with in terms of root perspective. That's a plus, as the winds shift and shift again, this man essentially playing us the viewer in the way he plays the system against itself.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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Reilly:Ace of spies
foxspike12 March 2007
Some 20 years ago I saw Sidney Reilly at work for the first time. Last week my husband and I watched "ace of spies" on DVD and We where amazed that the series looks not at all old fashion TV.It was still very much 21st century work and the acting of Sam Neill is still accurate to this day.I fell in love all over again.Today I began to read the book again. I like the work of Sam Neill very much.I think he's an underrated actor and like to see him more in features. But returning to Reilly it was ahead of his time so I give Thames TV a lot of credit to do this project more than 20 years ago. I hope there is a producer bold enough to make a film of Reilly that can reach the quality of the series. Christa
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The original Great Pretender
blanche-26 May 2013
Sam Neil is "Reilly, Ace of Spies" in this excellent miniseries from 1983. And let me add, he's much better looking than the real master spy Sidney Reilly.

This miniseries covers Reilly'a antics in the early part of the century, and the stuff that made him the model for Ian Fleming's James Bond. Over time, he spied for something like four countries, working at various times for England as part of Scotland yard, the Secret Service Bureau, and the Secret Intelligence Service. In 1918, he was part of a plot to overthrow the Bolsheviks in Russia and apparently planned to hold position of leader over there! The series not only covers Reilly's spying exploits and his ruthlessness, but also his way with women. Sam Neill is fabulous as Reilly - attractive, charming, cold, calculating, and confident.

How much of Reilly's story is true is unknown, and perhaps it was expanded as dramatic license, but he is believed to be the first superspy, and there's no doubt that he was very successful at what he did.

There is a lot of history to be had in this miniseries, supported with great production values. Though the series was filmed in England, France, and Malta, one really believes one is in various Russian locales as well as other places. And the detail in the sets and costumes is fantastic.

The various stories can be somewhat confusing, but that's one of the things that makes it so engrossing. Real life can be messy. Sometimes your friends are, in reality, your enemies in the spy game. Sometimes going into a situation, goals change. Reilly stayed sharp throughout, ferreting out enemies and finding advantageous situations. A real master spy. An excellent, often exciting, often suspenseful, always interesting miniseries.
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great series and incredible cast
brtor22212 April 2012
Like a great mystery book, this series is hard to put down (or stop watching). Some mystery series lull me to sleep. This one didn't. It is definitely slow-paced as they did series this way in the 80's and PBS allowed for longer series then and allowed the writers to take their time. Longer series (like this one at 12 episodes) allows for a more leisurely pace, allowing us to sink into the stories and plots and the characters! I haven't read the book Ace of Spies on which this series is based. But these TV episodes unfold in a chapter like pace which is great. All credit to the directors, the writer and the cast.

Sam Neill definitely looks like a Bond-study role. But the weight of an actor to carry a whole series like this on one's shoulders is tremendous, and Neill does an excellent job, being in almost every scene. And then to be surrounded by a great supporting cast surely helps too. Norman Rodway, Leo McKern, Hugh Fraser, Ian Charleson, John Castle, Peter Egan, Tom Bell, Lindsay Duncan, many of whom would have major roles of their own in other PBS British imported series. It is a bit odd to hear Kenneth Cranham's Lenin and David Burke's Stalin with English accents, but forgivable since none of the other actors as Russians try for any accent.

The usual attention to detail in this period piece, production designs, costumes, etc. all add to this excellent series.

If Thames TV/PBS tried to remake this today, it would be probably watered down to just a couple of episodes and the scenes would be cut to the quick edits and many of the smaller supporting characters would be totally eliminated and there would for sure be much more on screen violence and gore and lots of loud sound effects. So for me this version is more enjoyable. I highly recommend it.
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One of the best BBC/PBS productions ever.
surfandski12 April 2002
A great true story (no Oliver Stone hacking) about a sinister British super spy and how he almost singlehandedly brought down the Bolshevik revolution. Ian Fleming was once asked who James Bond was based on, he replied "but Reilly of course".
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If shown again don't miss this superb series
rfremantle28 October 2005
Reilly Ace of Spies was a brilliant series, with a young and, then, relatively unknown New Zealander Sam Niell playing the role of Reilly brilliantly. The most fascinating part is that the "real" Reilly worked undercover for years. Set in the context of the "Cold War" and with Reilly a factory owner in the USSR the series realistically presents the risks Reilly took to play the part of a prominent industrialist and undertake espionage that constantly presented the threat of discovery and its consequences. I did some research at the time and the episodes are largely based on Reilly's actual experiences. If it emerges from under the dust covers to be shown again take a look.
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Sam Neil is terrific as Reilly; wonderful cast with Leo McKern (Rumpole) as a mysterious power figure.
jean3bean17 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of the best pictures of what lies "beneath the surface" on the pages of history you'll ever see about the 1917 Russian Revolution. Amazing stuff. It's one of my all time favorite PBS productions

This is also the first time I'd seen Sam Neil and he does a highly credible job playing the master spy. Reilly's Russian origins lend credence to the way his life later developed. Leo McKern (Rumpole of the Bailey) makes a convincing villain, or at least, highly suspect figure. The whole cast, as is generally true in PBS series, is excellent. If you've never seen this series, you're in for a welcome surprise. The music is outstanding and haunting; it may live in your subconscious for years.

Beneath the romantic exterior of Reilly's life, where association with the power wielders and the lust for power run silently and deep, Reilly truly lived on the edge and risked it all. Reilly's real life was much more fascinating than the fictional versions based on it later, written by Ian Fleming.

I've always hoped that PBS would air this one again, but I have never seen it played since the 80s, and you know how PBS loves to rerun their brilliant series. I'd give this one nine stars out of ten.
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Perhaps the best drama ever to grace the airwaves
gaucho546 April 2005
Sam Neill and the entire cast are excellent, the story is totally absorbing, the cinematography is absolutely beautiful and the dialog is intelligent. The twelve episodes fly by too fast with a beautifully haunting Shostakovich influenced score.

The only problem is that the story is very loosely based on Reilly and the events that he was involved in. The sad fact is that nobody really knows exactly who Reilly was and what he was involved with. The most probable thing is that most of the story is fictitious set among a very interesting time in world history.

Yet this does not take one iota away from the magnificent mini-series. You can watch it a number of times and come away with more insight into the turbulent early 20th century. One last note: Leo McKern, was there anything this man did that was not incredibly excellent? His death was certainly a huge loss
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They don't come any better than this - factual, suspenseful
kulturnis28 October 2004
As historical as you can get with a minimum of overdramatization. Superb acting--you forget it's a movie. Fascinating, better than any fiction in this genre.

Stays very close to the book. Not a boring moment. In my estimation, Sam Neill at his best.

Supporting cast are great also. The series has the mark of authenticity in most every respect. Too bad it's not available in US format - PAL players are not abundant this side of the big pond.

Alastair Cook provided great introductions and continuity when the series aired on PBS in the U.S. This also was lost unless someone taped the series intact.
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dndcullens6 February 2004
When the series first came out it captivated me and to this day I have not been able to find the complete series on either VHS or DVD. It is one of those TV mini-series that the Brits do so well and Sam Neill is just superb in the lead role. The VHS listed is the first episode and in case you are wondering it gets better. I do wish that now they are bringing out series like "Friends" and "Cheers" on DVD that they (whoever they are) would look into bringing out the complete series of this great piece of work. I'm afraid the quality of the picture might be poor (as I found out when I got "Piece of Cake") but it would be still worth it. Rating 876 out of 880!!!!
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Theme music actually by Shostakovich
comartin17 September 2005
Great series, undeniably.

One bit of trivia/credits: while Harry Rabinowitz may have written a "Shostakovich-influenced" score, the theme music itself is actually a recycled composition by the great Dmitri Shostakovich himself, namely the "Romance" from the movie score to "The Gadfly", Opus 97.

I found this out by accident when my daughter brought a new piece home from her (Russian immigrant) violin teacher and started playing it. Having instantly recognized it, I looked at the score which said "Romance" and "Shostakovich" in Cyrillic (Russian) letters. Some Googling for "Romance Shostakovich Reilly" yielded name and opus number, and an MP3 download confirmed the identity of the piece.
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Reilly Ace of Spies well worth viewing. The Theme music particularly good.
ebapache618 January 2007
My wife and I lived in London for a couple of years during the 90's.

We watched the British TV programs on Saturday night and enjoyed the British humor.

I think it was in 1983 when we watched a series, Reilly Ace of Spies.

Sam Neil was the major actor.

Neil's performance was riveting. We could hardly wait for the next weekend to see the next episode.

I went on line a couple of weeks ago and found that the series was available on DVD and ordered the set.

We have since watched all 12 episodes. We enjoyed as much or more than we did when we viewed them in 1983.

The musical theme for the series by Harry Rabinowitz was really great. We would sure like to get a CD of the theme played completely.

Does anyone know if the theme music is available somewhere? Sure would appreciate any help in obtaining a CD of it.

Thanks for any help you may offer.

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Just discovered Reilly: Ace of Spies
speedo5814 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This for us was one of those things you pick up because your satellite is out and instantly become transported the the early 20th century and the machinations and one-upmanship of international intrigue. We did nothing else until we had seen all the episodes we own. Unfortunately, we can only find four of the twelve episodes.

It is excellent in every respect. A young Sam Neill was nuanced, complex, and fascinating to watch. The rest of the cast play their parts with gusto.

There are two scene which rang less than true. One was the one where a man commits suicide at a party and Nadia is splashed with his blood. The blood is speckled on her face, heavy on her neck and chest, but not a bit on her dress. She leaves to go to a restaurant in the same dress!

The other one that bothered me a bit was the hunting scene. Nadia trails behind the men in her long skirt, heels, and feathered hat. I have pictures of my grandmother on a hunting trip from that time period, and she was dressed out in pants, boots, albeit high heeled, a proper hat, and a long rifle. She looked as if she could actually shoot a "pig" or wild boar, as it were.

The way that Reilly dealt with women immediately made us think of Bond, James Bond, and we see that Ian Fleming readily admits that Reilly was indeed the prototype for Bond. Their is speculations as to whether he was a sociopath. I think the portion dealing with his half-sister should settle that question for anyone.

We have run out of episodes and don't want to leave Reilly yet. We wish we had the other eight.
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Reilly Without Vincent
wolfen24420 February 2018
Reilly: Ace of Spies(1983) was without question the pinnacle of PBS's series. Nothing before or since has come close. Sadly the introductions and conclusions to each episode done perfectly by Vincent Price cannot be obtained any longer unless someone can find them on a VCR somewhere. If it can be found then I'd give it 10 stars. Even the PBS eliminated Price from it's boxed set which is highly disappointing.
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Brilliant TV Series
copedw24 May 2016
I originally saw this series on television when it was released in 1983. It led me to discover the music and composer for the musical sore and, hello, it is now available on a 3 DVD set of 12 episodes from Amazon to enjoy once again. A brilliant series with so many top features: 1. A young Sam Neil playing arguably his best acting role - a somewhat sleazy, mysterious and totally untrustworthy "spy for hire" who is prepared to seduce or use other people mercilessly to achieve his objectives. Yet there is an undertone to the character of some higher loyalty that attracts people to him. 2. A story based on fact about a spy for hire in the period 1900 to post WW1. With pre-WW1 intrigue between governments of Europe who take advantage of Reilley's skills and willingness to deliver. Purportedly the real life story that Ian Fleming based his James Bond character. 3. A hauntingly beautiful musical score from Dimitry Shostakovich originally written for the 1955 movie The Gadfly. Specifically The Romance of his original movie symphony which is so unique and memorable. 4. Superb supporting caste, too numerous to detail, but including Leo McKern as his arch nemesis later in the series. 5. Superb period costumes, sets and locations.

Typically British in nature, the various instalments in the stories in the series take time to build. The viewer needs to wait for this to occur and then you will be hooked by the decadence of Reilly as elements of his life are revealed and his one man venture against all odds to achieve successful mission outcomes. But you are left wondering what is his agenda? It will ultimately be revealed.

A series of mystery and intrigue that takes the viewer through factually true, interesting and technologically innovative period in history. Reilly seems to be the one person who understands the implications of the moment, but is he really in control of his own destiny?

Despite its age - originally released in 1983 - this is a quality production and worth the time to follow through to its conclusion. You will see Sam Neil at his ultimate best and wonder whether his acting career has done any better than this.

I highly recommend this series.
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Superb, romanticized rendering of Britain's first secret agent
archie-5626 March 2012
I fortuitously got turned onto Reilly courtesy of a television review in the Toronto Star, to which I am eternally grateful. I might have missed it otherwise. Reilly was a terrific series. Heavily romanticized and perhaps not quite factually accurate to be sure, but an absolute, rewarding joy nonetheless. The original PBS broadcast of "Mystery" was embellished by the intros and epilogues rendered eloquently by the late great Vincent Price, whose narrative provides a valuable context. Shostakovitch's score sets the tone---romantic, redolent of a bygone era. The series was my introduction to Sam Neill, whose facial image---hard-eyed, with that ruthless slash of a mouth---prefaces the credits. Wonderful set and costume design. Good supporting cast, particularly the wonderful Leo McKern. Terrific script by Troy Kennedy Martin. This inspired me to see out paperbacks on Reilly. A worthwhile addition to anyone's television collection, to stand alongside Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner.
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I just love the music
Sulla-218 October 2007
The tone for each episode is the moving music at the black and white photos at the start. Obviously the stories are not totally accurate but Sidney Reilly must have been a very interesting person. Regardless of his motives, the series shows him to both clever, brave and resourceful. Sam Neil is excellent as always and he is well supported by a cast of well known actors including the wonderful Leo McKern. The stories are never far fetched always easy to understand. each episode also starts with a date, place and a brief explanation of what is happening. I want to tape the whole series but I usually fail to notice it until it is halfway through.
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Grim period realism
billcostley11 November 2005
I saw scenes recreated in this series that I'd never expected to see, e.g. the executions in the Lubyanka of the cell of left-women one of whom shot Lenin. Was this a recreation of a sole written source, or a recreation from supplementary historical sources? Is it late-Soviet-period 1983-revisionism or 1983-English-TV-realism? Does it gore everybody's sacred bulls or mostly just red ones? These thoughts ran thru my left-American mind as I watched it on cable-TV (maybe via some San Francisco Bay-area PBS station) recently (2005.) It's more than just adventure-TV to put it mildly. It ought to be made available in a boxed set of DVDs (is it?) - Bill Costley
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The only non-Russian buried in the Kremlin Wall!
champayne20 August 2003
I remember back when this "Mystery" series aired with Vincent Price as the host. My roommates were averse to watching anything on non-commercial television (PBS), until I asked them to watch "Reilly". After that, every Thursday evening at 9:00 PM, we'd tune in Reilly's latest caper. Thanks to the British Television industry for producing this fine series and thank you PBS for airing it in the US! The British really know how to make fine programs, but I think that they are rather too sophisticated for most of the American public. The typical American couch potato would rather have commercial interruptions in order to visit the fridge or use the loo, without missing any of the fluff that he has tuned in.

I wish that PBS would repeat these excellent shows along with "Inspector Morris", "Hercule Poirot", and "Rumpole of the Baily"!
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One of the finest TV miniseries ever made.
mrexpert7 August 2000
Sam Neill's grand entrance into the American consciousness via this exciting and extremely intriguing true story of a (British? Polish? Russian? Russian emigre?) spy who uncovers Stalin and Nicholas Djerjinsky's secret counterespionage group designed to nullify any effect of the Russian anti-Bolshevik emigres on the growth of Soviet Communism in the Russian Empire. Neill does an entirely convincing job in conveying a mysterious personality of dubious ethics and integrity but unavoidable intelligence and savvy, who actually did exist and whose story is a fascinating footnote to the early years of Bolshevik supremacy in what was to become the Soviet Union. The television miniseries was later made into a film that covered much, but not all, of the territory and the intrigue of the original. Would anyone happen to know if the individual episodes are available on videotape, or just this abridged version?
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