Posted in: Disc Reviews by David Annandale on December 23rd, 2003
We begin is the 1930s, as the forces of Fascism are rising on the European continent.Convinced that Communism is the hope of justice for the future, Cambridge University gradsKim Philby (Toby Stevens), Anthony Blunt (Samuel West), Guy Burgess (Tom Hollander) andDonald Maclean (Rupert Pehry-Jones) become Soviet agents. We follow their lives over thecourse of twenty years, as they rise (in no small part due to the British class system) to everymore important positions …f responsibility within the British establishment.
Anyone whose notions of espionage (particularly that associated with WWII and the ColdWar) are black-and-white would be well-advised to give this a pass: the sympathetic treatment ofthe protagonists will send such viewers into apoplectic fury. For everyone else, this is gripping,splendidly acted drama. While the love lives of the spies are dwelt on at too much length (andplay at in both predictable and repetitive fashion), and not enough time is spent exploring exactlywhat the quartet passed on the Soviets and to what effect, the tale is always intriguing, and one’sattention never flags over the four hours.
Though only 2.0, the audio is better than a lot of 5.1 tracks out there. The environmentaleffects are consistent and well constructed. The opening is a case in point: the echoes of a churchchoir singing “Jerusalem” gradually build as the camera moves closer to the singers, and wesegue smoothly to the hubbub of a party. The left-right separation is decent, if not exactlystriking. The sound is uniformly clean and free of distortion and noise.
A very handsome TV transfer, one of the best I’ve seen. The 16×9 picture is very sharp, withwonderfully vibrant, rich colours. There is no grain, the blacks are solid, the contrasts are superb,and there is virtually no edge enhancement. One great-looking disc.
Writer Peter Moffat is joined by director Tim Fywell and producer Mark Shivas forcommentary on episodes 1 and 4. There is much behind-the-scenes detail, some historicalbackground and thematic considerations in their talk. There are also some very long silences,going on for scenes at a time, and a tendency to point out the obvious. A History Channeldocumentary on the Cambridge spies is a little on the histrionic side, though interesting. Morefascinating is the scrapbook of vintage broadcasts concerning (or featuring) the actual spies (allbut Maclean are represented). There is also a scored photo montage, and ads for BBC America,Coupling, The Office and Father Ted. The menu is scored.
The actual history here is so fascinating that more in-depth information on the extras wouldhave been even better. Still, what is here helps contextualize the film, and the mini-series makesfor very entertaining viewing.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- “Spy Web — The Cambridge Spies” Documentary
- Scored Still Gallery
- Cambridge Spies Historical Scrapbook