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Cambridge Spies
Cambridge Spies
Actors: Tom Hollander, Toby Stephens, Rupert Penry-Jones, Samuel West, Stuart Laing
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television, Military & War
NR     2003     4hr 0min

In 1934, four brilliant young men at Cambridge University are recruited to spy for Russia. Fueled by youthful idealism, a passion for social justice, a talent for lying and a hatred for fascism, the four take huge personal...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Tom Hollander, Toby Stephens, Rupert Penry-Jones, Samuel West, Stuart Laing
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Drama, Military & War
Studio: BBC Video
Format: DVD - Color,Anamorphic - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 12/02/2003
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 4hr 0min
Screens: Color,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 7
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Give us "Cambridge Spies: the Moscow Years"!
F. S. L'hoir | Irvine, CA | 01/12/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This gripping, well-acted film launched me on a reading odyssey, beginning with Philby's "My Silent War" and including Seale and McConville's "Philby: the Long Road to Moscow," G. Borovik's "Philby Files," Yuri Modin's "My Five Cambridge Friends" (Y.M. was one of their KGB handlers), Philip Knightley's "Philby, the Life and Views of the KGB Master Spy", and Miranda Carter's "Anthony Blunt, His Lives", among many others (some of which are less than sympathetic). As a result, I can appreciate the intense research that went into this outstanding TV series.The portrayals are brilliant: the subtle nuances of Toby Stephens' Philby; the ambiguity of Samuel West's Blunt; the vulnerability of Rupert Penry-Jones' Maclean; and finally, the brilliance of Tom Hollander's Burgess. Hollander's portrayal of the outrageous original is so convincing that when one reads Guy Burgess' actual quoted words, one 'hears' Tom Hollander.

Moody and suspenseful, the drama dwells on a theme worthy of Sophoclean tragedy: the conflict between the obligations to oneself (friends and family) and the obligations to the State. Each of the characters, tragically flawed, reaches what seems to be the pinnacle of success, only to suffer a reversal of fortune and be cast down by outside events (here, the intrusion of the Cold War). The tragedy in Mr. Moffat's drama rests not in the fact that Philby, Blunt, Maclean and Burgess spied for the other side. These are mere plot points in an Aristotelian sense (although the repercussions on the State cannot be denied). The tragedy derives from the fact that as each man is compelled to betray his ideals, friends or family, he recognizes the enormity of that betrayal.

The film is enhanced by a riveting musical score and by remarkable camera work, which not only effectively depicts England of the 'thirties and 'forties, but also defines the characters with a sinister juxtaposition of shadow and light. The lighting is especially effective in scenes portraying the enigmatic and (some say) duplicitous Anthony Blunt, whose face is often half-masked in deep shadow.

The commentaries accompanying parts one and four of the series are equally fascinating, providing us with nuggets of information, such as the fact that Trinity College, Cambridge, would not allow its premises to be used for making a film about four of its most notorious graduates (The company was forced to film at King's College, next door.). Similarly, the Reform Club, the haunt of Jules Verne's fictional Phileas Fogg, refused admittance to the film company, because it did not want to advertise the fact that it had once named a double vodka and grapefruit juice a "Double Burgess", after one of its most irrepressibly rambunctious members, Guy Burgess.

We can only hope that Mr. Fywell and Moffat are planning a second series (The film-makers have already hinted at Philby's affair in Moscow with Melinda Maclean.). There are at least four more absorbing episodes: Philby's relentless grilling in London by MI5, his subsequent adventures in Beirut, his defection and miserable reception in Moscow, where he, like Burgess and Maclean, had to face the even colder reality of Russian Winters and the frost-bitten remnants of his utopian dreams, and finally Blunt's secret confession, promise of immunity, and eventual unmasking in London. Then the tragedy will be complete.

GEORGE RANNIE | DENVER, COLORADO United States | 05/27/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This BBC-PBS T.V presentation is superb. It is not something that you can look at while darning socks, knitting, washing dishes, talking on the phone or having an evening party-it is NOT light entertainment. Go to commercial TV for that. You've got to sit-down, shut-up and concentrate on what is going on. In fact, it took me two viewings to fully understand what actually was going on. LISTEN closely; the script is fantastic.
All of the actors are superb with Tom Hollander as Guy Burgess a standout. The production is on a par with some of the best BBC productions that I have had the privilege of seeing. With the gorgeous sets and costumes, it creates a feeling of the era that is being portrayed.
If you are into historical presentations and love superb acting buy this DVD."
Sympathy for the devils
Jay Dickson | Portland, OR | 03/09/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This 2003 BBC miniseries about the much-analyzed Cambridge spy ring of Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Blunt takes as sympathetic a view of the four as might be possible: they are represented as acting out of the highest ideals (a hatred for fascism and reactionary politics), and are shown to be extremely sympathetic men who suffer for their cause and who hold their friendship with one another among their highest ideals. This presents a very unusual take on the story that's rarely been seen before (except in the langurous but somewhat silly film ANOTHER COUNTRY). The production values are terrific, and some of the acting is quite good, especially from Tom Hollander, fittingly over the top as the brilliant but impossible narcissist Guy Burgess, and Samuel West, surpisingly hunky as the smooth and cautious Anthony Blount. The production values are excellent, and there are lovely cameos from Anthony Andrews as King George VI (struggling to overcome his speech impediment) and Imelda Staunton as his wife Queen Elizabeth, who slyly toys coversationally with Blount about his sexual preferences.

One of the best things about this DVD package is that it comes with a one-hour documentary from the History Channel about the Cambridge spy ring that takes almost the opposite take of the mini-series, presenting the spies are mercenary and corrupt and the entire Soviet system in as negative a light as possible. (The documentary also takes affirmative stands on questions concerning the spy ring the mini-series denies, such as the possibility of John Cairncross being the group's "fifth man" and the possible bisexuality of Donald Maclean.) The documentary is so righteous and portentous in its conservative editorializing that it seems almost astonishing it postdates the fall of the Berlin Wall; nonetheless, it provides a useful balance to the extremely sympathetic view the mini-series takes of four of the most demonized Englishmen of the twentieth century."
Missed Opportunity
Andrew K. Johnson | USA | 11/29/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)

"The true story of the Cambridge spies is a fascinating chapter in the history of espionage but it is also a study in the English class system. Four upper class idealists who were rather ignorant about the system they were spying for whilst betraying the system that allowed them wealth and opportunity out of reach of the common man.This dramatization is too detailed on romance and does not focus on the real events enough. The amazing aspect is that they got away with it for so long but there should have been more explananation of the changing world events to illustrate this. The motivation of the four is never clear and the damage they caused is never explained. If you like English dramas, you will probably like this. But for me far too much time is dedicated to the love affairs of the group and even though you would expect a true story about espionage during world war II and the cold war would be thrilling and exhilarating this is rather dull and boring. Good acting, good direction but a bit too much soft focus."