Acorn Media // 1993 // 394 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // May 4th, 2011
"Two years living like a hermit in the middle of bloody nowhere, he could be a nut case."
John Neil is at least a little bit of a nut case: he rarely answers his phone, his sweaters have holes in them, and he gets his gun ready before answering the door, just in case. He even burns toast! More importantly, Neil has flashbacks to the night he was late to meet his wife and son at the circus; he got there just in time to see the circus tent go up in flames, the result of a terrorist bombing.
You'd think he'd be the last person any branch of the British Secret Service would send on sensitive missions. However, he's a television character, and just the sort that would be sent on "the nasty jobs that no one else will touch" in the world of television espionage.
Circles of Deceit stars Dennis Waterman (New Tricks), a familiar face in British television -- a slightly grumpy face, true, but somehow likable.
Circles of Deceit contains four television movies, two to a disc:
* "The Wolves are Howling"
John Neil gets friendly with some IRA types, especially Eilish, the pacifist daughter of an IRA boss. Tony Doyle (Ballykissangel) and Derek Jacobi (Cadfael) guest.
* "Sleeping Dogs"
A sleeper agent is just bait to the agency, but Neil kind of likes her. The IRA turns up again, and Neil meets a former Russian agent (Leo McKern, Rumpole of the Bailey), who doesn't last long.
During an undercover operation, Neil meets two bankers involved in shady stuff. He also kind of likes the lady soldier he's assigned to protect. Simon Cadell (Enemy at the Door) and John Hannah (The Mummy) play the bankers.
* "Dark Secret"
When an old Army buddy commits a robbery, Neil gets a case involving Nazi war crimes, a prominent member of Parliament, and a dead man who still gets mail. He also gets involved with the widow of an old friend and the lover (Kate Buffery, Wish Me Luck) of the robber.
"The Wolves are Howling" sets a melancholy tone for the movie series, starting with an explosion that's shocking, yet filled with poetic touches, including a tearful clown. The movie returns to this scene throughout, illustrating John Neil's flashbacks and memories, even though he couldn't have seen everything in the sequence. It's still reasonably effective, though. There's one really good scene when he visits a wake, attended by a lot of IRA types, and everything's a bit surreal and disorienting, creating a believable aural and visual approximation of Neil's sense of dread. Outdoor scenes have a grayness about them that continues the mood. The ironic IRA drama doesn't break new ground, but it succeeds in conveying the bleak world of spydom.
The following episodes aren't quite as sad; on the contrary, Neil's handler (Susan Jameson, New Tricks) tends to meet him in bright open spaces. There's still tension because Neil tends to care about the people he encounters, and wants to keep the casualty count low, something his amoral handler just can't be bothered with.
Dennis Waterman is usually grumpy, something that's even worked into covers, as he tends to portray bitter mercenary characters in his operational identities. The romances seem a bit obligatory, but Waterman puts enough humanity, charm, and noble nature into Neil that they're only improbable, not completely absurd. Waterman takes a character who could have been a cardboard cutout and makes him feel complex.
The picture has the occasional grain and flecks of age, but nothing major. The adrenaline-raising score comes across well.
Cast filmographies, including key guest stars, are the only extra.
If you're watching Circles of Deceit for guest stars, keep in mind that even a Derek Jacobi or Leo McKern gets relatively brief screen time. It's Dennis Waterman's show all the way.
Circles of Deceit is a release of a minor Dennis Waterman series for the benefit of his fans. If you're not familiar with the actor already, you probably won't be too excited. Still, Circles of Deceit is a watchable drama set in a brutal, cynical world of espionage. I'd call Callan the must-see of this branch of British TV spydom, but if you're a spy fan, this might be worth a rental.
Review content copyright © 2011 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 394 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: The Wolves are Howling
* IMDb: Dark Secret
* IMDb: Kalon
* IMDb: Sleeping Dogs