Reilly: Ace of Spies (1983)

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Released 18-Sep-2013

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1983
Running Time 634:55 (Case: 636)
RSDL / Flipper No/No
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,4,5,6 Directed By Martin Campbell
Jim Goddard

Shock Entertainment
Starring Sam Neill
Peter Egan
Ian Charleson
Norman Rodway
Tom Bell
David Burke
Kenneth Cranham
Leo McKern
Jeananne Crowley
Donald Morley
John Castle
Celia Gregory
Brian Protheroe
Case Amaray-Transparent-Dual
RPI ? Music Harry Rabinowitz

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, of course
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Based on the book Ace of Spies by Robin Bruce Lockhart, Thames Television series Reilly: Ace of Spies follows the real life adventures of the Russian born Jew Sigmund Rosenblum (aka Sidney Riley) who was a very successful spy for the British before, during and after WW1. The series commences with Reilly (Sam Neill) detained by the Russians in Baku in 1901, accused, correctly, of stealing details of Russian oil interests in the region. He is helped to escape by Margaret (Jeanenne Crowley), the wife of an elderly clergyman; later in London when her husband dies they are married. For the next 10 years or so Reilly, guided by his British handlers Cummins (Norman Rodway) and Fotheringill (Peter Egan), destabilises Russian and German plans. The first six episodes of Reilly: Ace of Spies cover the period 1901 to 1910. In the final six, occurring between 1917 and 1925, Reilly plays a very dangerous game, being heavily involved in trying to destabilise and overthrow the Bolshevik government led by Lenin (Kenneth Cranham) and later Stalin (David Burke). Throughout this period his most deadly opponent is Felix Dzerzhinsky (Tom Bell), head of the Cheka, the Soviet secret police.

     The complete series of Reilly: Ace of Spies has been released in Australia previously by Umbrella Entertainment. That release contained the 12 episodes of the series spread over 6 discs, as opposed to 3 for this re-release, but the running times for each episode are pretty much identical and this seems the same transfer. A review of the earlier release, including episode summaries, can be found here so I won’t repeat those summaries here.

     Reilly: Ace of Spies is interesting for a number of reasons. The time period 1901 to 1925, before, during and after WWI when state sponsored espionage was in its infancy, is intriguing while Sam Neill in the title role gives a captivating performance. He is good looking, suave, intelligent and utterly ruthless, willing to use his charm, lovers and wives (he had three) to achieve his ends before discarding them. Another enjoyment of the series is looking out for a range of British actors in bit parts who later went on to become better known, such as Leo McKern, John Rhys-Davies, David Suchet and Bill Nighy.

     Reilly: Ace of Spies is well made and includes episodes directed by Jim Goddard and Martin Campbell. Campbell went on the bigger things and after directing the excellent series Edge of Darkness directed the James Bond films GoldenEye (1995) and Casino Royale (2006) as well as The Mask of Zorro (1998). Reilly: Ace of Spies consists of twelve 50 minute episodes and some are stronger than others, but at its best such in the double episodes Gambit and Endgame, set during 1917 and 1918 in Petrograd and Moscow with the Bolsheviks barely holding onto power, the series is bleak, compelling and powerful television.

     Reilly: Ace of Spies is an interesting and well-made series about the early years of spying with an excellent performance by Sam Neill in the title role.

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Transfer Quality


     The original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 was Reilly: Ace of Spies. The DVD cover indicates the series is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.77:1; on my system with the “original” ratio set the presentation fills the screen without black bars at the sides.

     The reviewer of the previous release was very critical of the video noting MPEG artefacts, film artefacts in the form of dust specks, reel-change marks, poor shadow detail, washed out highlights, posterisation and concluded that this is one of the worst transfers he had seen for some time. This rerelease uses the same source, as all the above are present. The print is soft, shadow detail is lacking and the colours are washed out; some of the exterior scenes in London are almost colourless and skin tones are quite light. There are also numerous examples of glare and ghosting with movement.

     The DVD cover of Reilly: Ace of Spies contains the following disclaimer “we have attempted to preserve, as closely as possible, the original audio and visual components of this classic program however due to the age of the material, the quality may reveal the limitations of the technology available at the time of production”. Thus, what we have on the DVD is an unrestored print of a limited budget TV series which is now 30 years old. Other than the reel change markers, marks were generally small and not intrusive and I certainly did not feel that they intruded into my enjoyment of the series. Some episodes are worse than others, such as Episode 5 which shows excessive grain and MPEG artefacts, glare is frequently bad but other episodes are not too bad. Each to their own, I think, but I have seen prints of 80s TV shows that are in worse shape.

     There are English subtitles available.

    The layer changes were not noticeable; I presume they were between episodes.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     Audio is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192 Kbps.

     The audio is mono, which was the original broadcast audio. Dialogue is clear and understandable, the effects dull but acceptable. There was obviously no surround or sub-woofer use.

     The score by Harry Rabinowitz is quite lush and suits the period of the series. The theme music during the credits is by Dmitri Shostakovich.

     I did not notice any lip synchronization problems.

     The audio is appropriate.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     There are no extras.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region 1 US release contained the complete Reilly: Ace of Spies on four discs and included a 20 minute documentary Life of Reilly, The Super Spy, that was said to be interesting. If that release is still available it would be the best choice.


     Those who have the previous release of Reilly: Ace of Spies will not need this rerelease. However, if you enjoyed Reilly: Ace of Spies when it was shown here on TV, or are interested in the period or the star and did not buy it previously, here is another chance. It is a good series about the early years of spying with a captivating performance by Sam Neill in the title role. It is true there are many faults with the video, but it is never unwatchable and the series is unlikely to get a restoration any time soon.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Monday, July 21, 2014
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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