Reilly: Ace of Spies-The Complete Series (1983)

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Released 5-Dec-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Synopsis-Episode Guide
Trailer-The Saint, Man In A Suitcase, Danger Man, The Baron
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1983
Running Time 635:59 (Case: 669)
RSDL / Flipper No/No
Multi Disc Set (6)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,4,5,6 Directed By Martin Campbell
Jim Goddard

Umbrella 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 Brackley-Opaque-No Lip
RPI $69.95 Music Harry Rabinowitz

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    In the late 19th century British espionage was in its infancy. Although spying was used since the 15th century, it was still a fairly undeveloped tool with spies being drawn from the military and given no real training in the skills needed to infiltrate and gather intelligence. It was into this environment that Russian born Sigmund Rosenblum entered when he brought the British Secret Service vital information on Russian oil fields.

    Rosenblum changed his name to Sidney Reilly and became the British Secret Service's most important agent. His professionalism and coldly clinical approach changed the face of spying forever. A womaniser and confidence man, he was alternately loved and hated by the Secret Service and was often accused of working more for Sidney Reilly than for the British Government. Ian Flemming later used Reilly as the model for his  fictional, quintessential British agent, James Bond.

    Reilly: Ace Of Spies, based on Andrew Cook's book Ace Of Spies - The True Story Of Sidney Reilly, is a twelve part series documenting the highlights of Reilly's unusual career which saw him involved in a number of influential and significant turning points of history, such as Germany's pre-World War I arms build up and the plot to overthrow Lenin's Bolshevik revolution. Reilly's involvement in these events often had major repercussions on the course of history. Sam Neill plays Reilly with his usual competence, but this is an unusual role for Neill. Reilly is portrayed as a cold, calculating, somewhat self-centred and unlikeable character; a departure from most of Neill's roles; and it is interesting to see him playing this type of person.

    The series is from Thames Television and, like many of these British dramas, the production is not big-budget, but it is fairly well done and doesn't look cheap. It relies more on the script than large scenes and special effects, and this is not a bad thing. The story does move at what may kindly be termed a stately pace at times (the unkind would say it's slow), but unlike Reilly's fictional counterpart spying rarely has great moments of action.

    In all it is an interesting story that is well told, but not for everyone. Those who are action junkies will find the story drawn out and ponderous, but those who like more intricate plots and political intrigue will find a lot of worthy viewing. I must say in fairness that this series works better when it is watched with a gap between each episode. I found that it was difficult to concentrate when I had to watch two or more episodes in a sitting to do this review. It was written to be viewed over a longer period, and this is the best way to watch it.

    There is one strange quirk with this transfer. There was no timing displayed on my DVD player for each episode. Because of this I had to use PowerDVD to read the running times.

Disc 1
An Affair With A Married Woman (78:42)
    Rosenblum escapes Russia and heads to London with top secret oil information. He marries a wealthy widow and changes his name to Sidney Reilly.

Prelude To War (49:24)
    In Port Arthur to avenge the death of a friend, Reilly passes intelligence to the Japanese that allow them to sink the Russian Fleet. His wife has an affair and leaves him and he is captured by the Russians.

Disc 2
The Visiting Fireman (49:43)
    Reilly is sent by London to Germany to steal the plans for a new naval gun. The methods he uses and decisions he makes have a lasting impact on modern espionage.

Anna (51:25)
    Reilly is in France bidding on behalf of England against the Rothschilds for oil concessions in the Middle East. While in Paris he looks for his wife and meets his half-sister Anna.

Disc 3
Dreadnoughts And Crosses (51:05)
    Reilly is sent to St Petersburg to disrupt a contract that allows German shipyards to rebuild the Russian fleet.

Dreadnoughts And Double Crosses (51:22)
    Successful in aborting the shipyard contracts, Reilly is given an even bigger assignment. He must overthrow the Bolshevik movement.

Disc 4
Gambit (51:19)
    It is 1917 and Reilly is in Moscow with a million dollars to try and convince Lenin to bring Russia back into the war against Germany. Lenin refuses and Reilly plans to overthrow Lenin's government and establish a new government in Russia with himself at its head.

End Game (50:45)
    Reilly's coup fails when Lenin changes the date of a key Congress meeting. An assassination attempt on Lenin by a separate insurgent group fails and Reilly must flee Russia.

Disc 5
After Moscow (50:55)
    Reilly has escaped Russia and is back in London where he and a former colleague, Lockhart, arrange for a $250 million loan to the Bolsheviks. Meanwhile, Lockhart and Reilly are tried in Moscow and found guilty of insurgency. They are sentenced to death.

The Trust (50:36)
    Reilly moves to America to persuade Henry Ford to finance an invasion of Russia. In London, the British Government falls due to Reilly's involvement in the forged "Zinoviev Letter".

Disc 6
The Last Journey(49.46)
    Reilly remarries and receives news that a friend, Sarinkov, has been killed in Russia. He returns to Russia to avenge Sarinkov's death and cunningly manipulates Stalin into arresting him. This destroys the organisation "The Trust" which Reilly blames for Sarinkov's demise.

    Following Reilly's arrest and disappearance, the British Government consider mounting a rescue amid rumours that he is being tortured, and Stalin orders Reilly's execution.

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Transfer Quality


    This is a pretty poor quality transfer that displays a good range of available artefacts. The roll-call is impressive. MPEG artefacts, film artefacts in the form of dust specks, reel-change marks, poor shadow detail, washed out highlights, posterisation; this is one of the worst transfers I have seen for some time.

    In fairness I must say that much of the problem is clearly the source material. Reel-change marks indicate that the original negatives or inter-positives were not used for this transfer, and the print used to author the DVD was obviously of poor quality. This is going to make getting a quality transfer difficult, but it is also clear that no attempt at restoration has been made.

    Colour is muted throughout and shadows often display posterization in darker scenes. The MPEG artefacts give an overall grainy look to the film and sharpness is often lacking.

    The film is still watchable - none of these artefacts were quite bad enough to make viewing completely intolerable, but sometimes the imperfections became quite distracting. Of course, the general high image quality we now take for granted makes us less tolerant of these imperfections, but even so, this is a very poor transfer.

    It is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

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


    Compared to the video, the audio is wonderful. This doesn't mean it was anything special, just that it didn't have anywhere near the number of problems the video transfer displayed.

    Dolby Digital 1.0 is all that's on offer. Nothing grand, but at least the dialogue is clear with no audio sync problems, hiss or pops.

    There isn't really much I can say about the audio. A good, competent transfer in a basic mono format.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The menu is animated with short scenes from the episodes on the specific disc with the theme looping in the background.

Episode Guides
    Each disc has an episode guide for all twelve episodes. These are divided by disc and are just text on a montage background.

Umbrella Trailers
    Disc 6 contains trailers for some other Umbrella releases.
The Saint (1:01)
Man In A Suitcase (0:53)
Danger Man (0:44)
The Baron (0:39)

R4 vs R1

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

    Region 1 gets Dolby Digital 2.0 and a documentary "Life of Reilly: Superspy" and Region 2 gets a Sam Neill biography and filmography and production notes. Both of these miss out on Region 4's episode guides and the Umbrella propaganda. This would make Region 1 the pick provided the documentary was up to a decent standard.


    A well written series with some good performances. Reilly is one of those lesser known figures in history whose life makes for some great storylines. Not the sort of series that will appeal to everyone, but for those that like political intrigue and have an interest in history, it may be worth a look.

    Production standards are what you expect from Thames Television - good without being big budget - but it is let down by the poor transfer to DVD. Video is extremely disappointing and audio is competent but basic.

    The extras are minimal.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Glen Randall (If you're really bored, you can read my bio)
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-1200Y, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TH-42PV500A 42" HD Plasma. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596
SpeakersRichter Wizard fronts, Richter Lynx centre, Richter Hydra rears, Velodyne CT-100 sub-woofer

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