Appellate Judge James A. Stewart burns toast. A top-secret British spy organization wants to hire him.
"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.
Facts of the Case
Circles of Deceit contains four television movies, two to a disc:
• "Sleeping Dogs"
• "Dark Secret"
"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.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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