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Blu-ray Review

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The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965)


Starring: Richard Burton, Claire Bloom and Oskar Werner
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £22.99


Certificate: PG
Release Date: 17 May 2021

The Spy who came in from the Cold (1965) is a spy thriller, based on the 1963 novel, written by John le Carré. The film was directed by Martin Ritt (The Black Orchid (1958), Hud (1963)) and starred Richard Burton, Claire Bloom and Oskar Werner. The film was nominated for two Oscars and won another ten awards. It remains the writer's most financially successful novel and screen adaptation...

Post-war spy stories diverged from their predecessors. Where spies had been romantic and daring, a new generation of writers unearthed the seedier and depressing side of spying. Len Deighton created Harry Palmer, on television we got Callum, created by James Mitchell. But the master of post-war spy stories was le Carré. The strength of his writing is reflected in the amount of his novel which has been translated to both the big and small screen.

The film tells the story of Alec Leamas, a spy who used to run the West Berlin MI6 office, running various counter agents. When one of his operatives is killed, he is ordered back to London by Control.

From this point on, due to the complexity of the plot, it is difficult to discuss the storyline. On the surface, it is about an embittered spy who turns to drink. He gets a menial job in a library and meets Nancy, a communist supported. His behaviour, due to his drinking, starts to spiral downwards leading to an assault on an innocent shopkeeper and a spell in jail.

Following his release from incarceration, he is approached. On the surface, it seems to be a charity that helps ex-cons, but Leamas knows that this is an approach by the communists who want the information he holds... or is it?

That is the whole point of the film. It shows you something, only to tell you that you are watching something else. Presumably, Leamus know the whole mission he is on, but we only get clues from what the characters say, and, in many cases, these turn out to be deliberately misleading. The audience only gets all the puzzle pieces in the last ten minutes of the film. The audience is then exposed to all the misdirection that has been happening to both the characters and the audience. It is skilful once you know what you have just watched.

Of course, you can only plan for so many things and the fact that Nan (Claire Bloom) meets and falls in love with Leamus (Richard Burton) is an unforeseen problem. Nan’s introduction shows not only the lengths that Leamus will go to deceive but also the cost to his soul. Meeting Nan is transformative but ultimately tragic for Leamus.

The ensemble cast, which includes Sam Wanamaker, Rupert Davies, Michael Hordern and Oskar Werner are only a few of the recognisable and talented actors.

The film has been restored to 1080p and looks crisp with solid blacks and a good range of greys. There is only one audio track available, an English: LPCM 2.0, with optional English subtitles.

The extras on the disc include a new full-length commentary from Adrian Martin and a video essay from David Cairns.


Charles Packer

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