Based on the John le Carré novel and adapted for television by Arthur Hopcraft (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy; Hard Times, Bleak House, and Rebecca), A Perfect Spy centres around Magnus Pym (Peter Egan), a self-serving, unfeeling individual who leads a life of duplicity and betrayal.
Growing up without a mother, Pym's early years are dominated by his con-man father who is delighted when his son shows an aptitude for deceit. When Magnus is sent to Switzerland for his education he is scouted by a British agent who sees him as a likely candidate for the Intelligence Service, reporting back on politically active students. His education continues at Oxford where he joins the service officially but it is not long before he becomes involved with the Czechoslovakia secret service and begins exchanging secrets with both sides. When both agencies become suspicious of his activities Pym becomes a wanted man and drops out of sight, moving to a small Victorian boarding house in Farleigh Abbot, the seaside resort where he had once spent a holiday with his father. Here he reflects on his life of deception.
A Perfect Spy follows its protagonist from the tender age of six all the way to fifty-three. The character of Magnus is portrayed alternately by twin brothers Jonathan and Nicholas Haley as a child, with Benedict Taylor taking on the role during his teenage years and Egan portraying him from twenty-one onwards. Ray McNally, known for his performance in Spindoe, captivates audiences with his portrayal of the enigmatic father figure. With a mere blink of an eye, he seamlessly transitions from displaying genuine emotion to embodying a calculating con man who expertly lures in his unsuspecting prey.
"It's not really a spy story", series director Peter Smith told the 'New York Times'. "It's about the way one's parents and childhood make one the kind of person one is. Because Magnus is deprived of love as a child he grows up having to steal it. And although he spends his life trying to escape from his father, he goes on being the motivating force in his life." Peter Egan said of his character "Every single person Magnus Pym meets is betrayed by him. Because of his childhood, the negative input of his father, he has no moral standpoint of his own. He is the perfect spy basically because he has no inner feelings about anything."
Shot on location in England, Wales, America, Berlin, Corfu and Austria (which doubled for Czechoslovakia), the series was justifiably nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries and the British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series in 1988.
Published on January 18th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.