The Sandbaggers: The Complete First Series

*****

Reviewed by: Caro Ness

This is a taut, slick British spy series from the Seventies, produced by Yorkshire Television. The Sandbaggers is the elite covert operations section of British Intelligence, run by the excellent steely-eyed Neil Burnside (Roy Marsden, who later went on to play P D James's detective, Adam Dalgliesh).

The series is firmly set during the Cold War and, despite clearly showing to which era it belongs, it has not aged at all and still packs a hefty punch, due to its tacit understanding of the political dynamics.

There are numerous familiar faces amongst the cast, but it is Marsden who effortlessly carries the day. Despite Burnside's cold-blooded, calculating deviousness, Marsden's deft performance never lets us hate the man. Rather we learn to pity him, so consumed is he by his job and his responsibility for The Sandbaggers.

The episodes were mostly shot in the studio, with Leeds standing in for Eastern Europe and overseas filming limited to Malta. The series' trademark of complex plotting, vivid characterisation, terse dialogue and dark wit is largely absent from three later episodes, which others penned after the series' creator Ian Mackintosh mysteriously disappeared in June, 1979.

This is one of the most intelligently written, compellingly portrayed and intellectually satisfying series to come out of the UK since independence television crawled out from under Auntie Beeb's skirts. Whether or not you like the spy genre, The Sandbaggers is so well written and acted that it is as much a drama about people and human nature as it is about special agents and government corruption.

As the New York Times wrote: "The best spy series in television history."

Reviewed on: 17 Dec 2005
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Seventies spy series that has aged like fine wine.
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