At the turn of the 20th century, one remarkable man single-handedly tried to alter the course of history. Cold, ruthless, enigmatic, this Russian-born British agent radically transformed modern espionage techniques and set... more » the mold for a new kind of secret agent-the super spy. REILLY: ACE OF SPIES is the thrilling, suspenseful dramatization of the real-life adventures of Agent ST-1, aka Sidney Reilly, the inspiration behind Ian Fleming's James Bond. Shot in glorious period detail, one heart-pulsing mission after another captures the arc of Reilly's brilliant career. From stealing top-secret Russian oil information to a near overthrow of the Bolshevik Revolution to his final capture by Stalin's forces in 1918, Reilly's exploits are at times so daring and reckless it's hard to believe it's history and not fiction. Starring Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, The Hunt for Red October), REILLY: ACE OF SPIES includes all 12 original episodes on DVD for the first time, and features a bonus documentary examining the final, mysterious days of this legendary figure. DVD Features: "Life of Reilly: Superspy" episode from A&E's acclaimed Vanishings series; Interactive Menus; Scene Selection« less
Richard W. (rewfilmmaker) from NAPLES, FL Reviewed on 12/20/2012...
Reilly delivers the goods.
A close look at what spies are really like
F. Behrens | Keene, NH USA | 02/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"At a time when the James Bond films were still novel and going strong, as were their imitators, British television viewers were watching a 10.5 hour, 12-part miniseries called "Reilly, Ace of Spies." Based on the biography by Robin Bruce Lockhart, this intriguing series is now available in a boxed set of 4 A&E DVDs (AAE-71748) and makes for some really gripping viewing.
With Sam Neill in the title role, we follow the career of the man who taught British intelligence that if ruthlessness gets the job done, then ruthless spies are what they need. Sidney Reilly, an assumed name as is learned later, remains loyal to friends but not altogether to his employers and casual acquaintances. And if he treats his wives questionably when his job gets in the way, he makes up for it by treating all the other women with great feeling and tenderness.
Having little patience with incompetence on any level, he gets a huge contract for battleships for Russia away from a British firm and to a German firm for which he works, he gets oil concessions, he steals plans by posing as a fire expert in Germany, and he finally tries to make himself head of a provisional government that will overthrow the Bolshevik regime. And so on.
Along the way he runs into two great villains: Basil Zaharov (Leo McKern, who can say more with a look than most actors can with a page of text), and the icy head of Soviet Intelligence Felix Dzerzhinsky (Tom Bell), who has set up a phony organization that pretends to be against Stalin and rakes in millions from rich anti-Bolsheviks all over the world. A frightening moment comes when Stalin (David Burke) orders all in the group to be shot, because even following orders to appear disloyal "is no excuse"! Which is what happens when personal power is far more important than human beings.
Other major characters are Reilly's boss Cummings (Norman Rodway), his fellow agent Hill (Hugh Fraser), and an astute oriental police officer (David Suchet).
Like another two series about spies, "Tinker Tailor" and "Smiley's People," the story is complex, you never quite know at first who is who and who is lying more than the others. Except for some possibly supernatural business towards the end, you watch with both fascination and a vague disgust that this is what many people are really like-and that, from what we see, it is not the meek who are doing any inheriting.
Fascinating and provocative viewing on a definitely "adult" level (i.e., lots of violence and a lot of naked flesh, the latter of which is pretty gratuitous). Neill does a marvelous job of portraying the complex and highly ambiguous main character.
There is an interesting documentary of the real Reilly as a bonus feature, which should be seen after the series, not before.
The best spy series I have ever seen.
Russell Fanelli | Longmeadow, MA USA | 07/31/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Reilly - Ace of Spies is the best extended series of spy films ever made, in my opinion, for many reasons.
First, the cast of this twelve episode story is uniformly excellent beginning with Sam Neil as Sidney Reilly, a Russian born jew named Sigismund Rosenblum, who goes to work for the British Secret Service and takes the name Reilly because he thinks the Irish are well accepted all over the world. And Reilly travels over much of the world doing the dirty work of the British government. Neil brings complexity to his role as an agent who believes the end justifies the means. Machiavelli would be pleased with Neil's performance.
Leo McKern as Basil Zaharov, an arms dealer with morals similar to Reilly's and ability almost the equal of Reilly, is the best of an outstanding supporting cast. McKern is superb throughout the series. Zaharov goes head to head with Reilly and their conflicts result in many dramatic and surprising encounters.
Next is Tom Bell as Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Russian secret police at the beginning of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Bell is totally convincing as he deals first with Lenin, in a fine performance by Kenneth Cranham, and then Stalin, played by David Burke. Dzerzhinsky loves Lenin, hates Stalin, and respects Reilly, his nemesis and more than his equal. Reilly wants to overthrow Lenin and put himself in Lenin's place. He almost succeeds.
Norman Rodway and Peter Egan are both convincing as Reilly's control officers in the British Secret Service. Spying is a nasty business and we are never sure who will betray whom.
Women, particulary Reilly's wives, played by Jeananne Crowley, wife #1, Celia Gregory, #2, and Laura Davenport, #3, play a supporting role to the ace of spies, but each wife figures prominently in the ongoing story. All give effective performances.
2. A short biography of Sidney Reilly is presented as the final presentation on Disc #4. It is apparent that the producers have stayed fairly close to historical fact. Even without the history lesson the story stands on its own merits and is totally engrossing and genuinely entertaining. I planned to watch two episodes at a time, but often found myself playing a third episode to find out what would happen next, and then watching the scenes from the next installment to wet my appetite for the next show. The only films I have seen that compare favorably with The Ace of Spies are Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People. I must admit that Alec Guiness, as George Smiley, is a better actor than Sam Neil, but I think the Ace of Spies series is at least as good as the Smiley stories, with the added benefit of much more history delivered in the Ace series. Reilly - Ace of Spies is a great story from beginning to end.
3. The production values of this series are excellent. It feels like we have been transported in time to the first 25 years of the 20th Century. From the offices of the Secret Service in London, to Port Arthur on the Russian Pacific Coast, to St. Petersburg, Moscow, Paris, etc., attention has been paid to the smallest detail. These films look and feel like a big budget production.
4. The only negative reviews of Ace of Spies on Amazon relate to the DVD transfer, which was just good enough not to spoil the show for me. Unless the viewer is especially particular about the quality of DVD transfer, I recommend Reilly - Ace of Spies heartily. This is high quality entertainment from beginning to end."
By others, but I agree
Gary | Dallas, Texas USA | 09/02/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Reilly: Ace of Spies Thursday, November 26, 1998 by Ross Klatte I'm going to depart this week from my usual movie review to tout one of the best-produced and most interesting miniseries I've ever seen on television. Reilly: Ace of Spies (1983-87) is a series made for British TV. The series, written by Troy Kennedy-Martin and based on the book Ace of Spies by Robin B. Lockhart, tells the story of an actual British agent in the early years of this century who became the world's first international spy and the model, it's said, for the fictional James Bond. Known as a womanizing scoundrel as well as a master spy, Russian-born Sidney Reilly (his real name was Rosenblum; he was the illegitimate child of his Austrian mother and her Jewish lover, and he took an Irish name the better to operate in the anti-Semitic Europe of his day), was a key espionage player during the power-jockeying years leading up to the First World War. Among Reilly's exploits, dramatized in this series, was his discovery of Russian oil exploration in the Middle East, his stealing plans for the British of German battleships before the war, and, most incredibly, his part in an attempted overthrow of the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution. Among his escapades was to marry more than once, unlawfully, and to yield to his attraction to his half-sister. Sam Neill, his hair slicked down and parted in the middle, looking very smart and turn-of-the-century, plays Reilly with perfect credibility. (Lately, as in Jurassic Park and The Hunt for Red October; he plays character roles; here he's a handsome leading man.) He moves elegantly through the series, dressed impeccably as a gentleman, sometimes disguised in working-class garb (once in black robes as a Catholic priest), and exuding a sense of worldly calculation. Among other fine actors in the series are Leo McKern, who plays the cynical and scheming Basil Zaharov, John Rhys-Davies, and Jeananne Crowley as Reilly's on-and-off-again wife Margaret. The series was beautifully shot to give us the look and atmosphere of its European and Eastern settings in the years 1901 to 1918. In a memorable scene with his half-sister, in which Reilly recounts his troubled relationship with their father and his career in the years since they last saw each other, he admits to being a spy and then nails down the qualifications: "You have to see life as a bit of a game," he says. "And you have to have the ability to manipulate people, I suppose." The series was directed by Jim Goddard, who also directed Shanghai Surprise, which "starred" Sean Penn and Madonna when those two were briefly a real-life couple, and which was such a bomb, I gather, that you can't find it on video. Reilly: Ace of Spies, on the other hand, is probably Goddard's prime effort. If I had the money, I'd order all four videos from amazon.com."
Lockhart's Ace of Spies
Michael Ziegler | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania United States | 03/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This account is a somewhat romantic view of the life of master spy Sidney Reilly, who was the model for Ian Fleming's James Bond. The series attempts to convey the era from the turn of the century in 1900 to post World War 1 Europe and possibly beyond with the activities of a British spy who infiltrated countries and pilfered valuable top secret information to the delight of the British Admiralty. Reilly first appears in Baku, where he has information of a secret report on Russian Oil exploration and info on middle east oil. Another assignment finds him in league with the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese war attack on Port Arthur. He also steals valuable plans from a German firm in charge of making guns for ships by working as a fireman. Later in perhaps the most interesting period, he is involved with representing the British and interacts with Lenin, Dzerzhinsky, and other familiar Bolsheviks during the period of the Russian revolution and executes a grand plot with Lockhart to topple the government in favor of placing himself as the head. Only Kaplan's shooting of Lenin after a factory speech spoils the timing of the revolt, or so we are led to believe. What is great about this series is the insight you receive during a somewhat murky period of Russian history, amist all of the womanizing, drinking, partying and debauchery that our hero engages in during his adventures. This is a VERY romanticized account of Reilly's life and concludes with the idea that he was killed by KGB agents under the charges earlier sentenced in absentia by a Bolshevik court for anit-revolutionary activity. Instead, he may have gone over to the Bolsheviks and may have still been operating during the second world war. His allegiances were always based on how much was being offered but he was still basically a Russian and there was evidence presented after this film was made that pointed to a possible defection. Sam Neill is excellent as Reilly and he has a host of familiar British actors surrounding him that are all veteran character players. This is an excellent work, well worth the viewing."
Why isn't it here in the US on DVD...
Catspec | VT USA | 01/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have not seen these videos, but the series was made in Britain for ITV, and shown in the US on Public Television in the 80s. I just finished watching it on my own PBS station, as they brought it back this winter. This is a five star series. The story and the acting are of the best. Sam Neill is superb, and the story is based on reality - the first real "spy" as we use the term today. Sidney "Reilly" was first and foremost an agent of the British government, and his actions and life centered on this fact. Yet, his loyalties were divided, as he was a Russian born and he dispised the revolution and worked against it as best he could, and ultimately died for his work. The series is always thought provoking and not light entertainment at all."