309 min (length)
22 October 2018 (released)
05 November 2018
This Granada six-part series (first aired in 1983) is something of a rarity in as much as a major film star, Terence Stamp, plays the lead role. Here he is former Oxford university professor David Audley – now recruited by the British Secret Service to lead a team of counter-intelligence agents in what turns out to be a highly complex assignment indeed!
Author Anthony Price wrote some 19 espionage novels between 1970 - 89 and then abruptly stopped. This series is derived from the first three. Price, who certainly deserves to be better known (he is now out of print), was like his creation, Audley, at Oxford - as was the considerably better known and much lauded John Le Carre. After watching this compelling but it must be said rather overly complex series there may be an answer there somewhere. Nevertheless one will watch it again. Few of us have any 'real' idea of exactly what MI5 or even MI6 gets up to. Forget Mr. Bond we are looking at some kind of truth and not a boy's own fantasies where the good looking spy gets to lay a number of glam leading ladies, although Audley doesn't do too badly (Stamp was once considered the most attractive actor around; although he's 45 here).
To compress this plot and subplots for a single review is not exactly easy. The wreckage of an old plane which crashed 27 years ago is 'suddenly' discovered in a shallow lake in the English countryside – Lincolnshire to be precise. The pilot, a certain Steerforth, was known to the Ministry Of Defence and is still in the cockpit... well, what's left of him that is. The story at the time was that the plane had crashed somewhere and was never found. Obviously Steerforth was presumed dead - but there were survivors who bailed out, would they not know the truth? Also the plane was known to be carrying boxes containing Top Secret information from East Germany and if found could stir up all kinds of trouble. Pretty soon we have the Russians, Mossad (with whom David has close links), the Syrians and god knows who else on the trail. What we don't initially know is that this may have been a plant, a ruse instigated by MI5 (or a similar organization) to rout out a few unanswered questions that needed to be answered. The information is clearly of deep national interest. As is usual our own 'masters' may not have been entirely honest when enlisting or luring our top man into this 'Chessgame'; after all, how often did this happen to Len Deighton's 'Harry Palmer' (unnamed in the novels)?
It doesn't help that one of his colleagues is a double agent as well - but not for the KGB (par for the course that). You will be eliminated for finding out too much, it's just too dangerous. Audley is ably assisted by Hugh Roskill (Robin Sachs) - a damn fine fellah if ever there was one, and Mick Hannah (the ever dependable Michael Culver) though of course danger lurks at every corner, including some nasty explosions, cold-blooded assassinations and other acts of sabotage. Who can be trusted and who can’t? Mind you, it’s not just a bumpy ride for Audley who even gets married after falling in love with the initially seemingly naive daughter of Steerforth, Faith (Carmen Du Sautoy).
After seeing this you might ask yourself why anyone would want to work for the MOD? Is it, perhaps, more exciting than working in a bank or is it down to patriotic love? This 6-part series takes a while to warm up when it comes to a bit of action but it really pays off to be patient, for the action starts after Government handyman Colin Jenkins (a young David Haig) gets blown up; but was he the intended victim? Well, that's the world of espionage for you! How could George Pravda not play KGB man Igor Panin? Oscar Quitak and John Grillo are telling as the Israelis Theo Friesler and Jake Shapiro (in more ways than one). We also have Nadim Sawalha in the role of Major Razzak. Now who do you think he is working for?
The last two episodes, adapted by John (COLDITZ) Brason are a little easier to follow (Murray Smith, best known for STRANGERS, did the first four). They are based on Price's third novel 'Colonel Butler's Wolf' - see if you can work out 'the Red under the bed’. The series is invariably intriguing with plenty going on, and Terence Stamp delivers a fine performance. You may wish to check out the author as well if you can get your hands on a copy. Well worth a look!
Please note that this DVD release is a Network exclusive! (www.networkonair.com)