148 of 152 people found the following review helpful
There've been some uncommonly intelligent spy films produced by British television: TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY and SMILEY'S PEOPLE (both starring Sir Alec Guinness as the owlish George Smiley), and THE SANDBAGGERS miniseries. In all three, the agency involved is Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6). The operatives are a tweedy lot, and the headquarters, either at the old "Circus" or the more modern Century House, are, like the remains of Empire, comfortably shabby. Thus, it was with some misgivings that I began MI-5, the ongoing glitzy miniseries featuring the SIS's less glamorous sister also known as the Security Service, which like America's FBI, deals with domestic intelligence, anti-subversion and counter-terrorism. The glitz is of Hollywood proportions - almost, for me, an instant turn-off. I'm glad I stuck with it.
The lead "spook" is Tom Quinn, played by Matthew MacFadyen. He runs an undercover operations team, the most prominent members of which are Zoe Reynolds (Keeley Hawes) and Danny Hunter (David Oyelowo). The interior of MI-5's London HQ, Thames House, is ultramodern and high tech; the CIA probably never had it so good. Tom's boss is the hardboiled and sphinx-like Harry Pearce, played by Peter Firth.
Admittedly, I didn't become engaged until episodes three and four, when I realized that the intricate scripts, fast-paced and tautly presented, transcended the glitz. I'm now hooked, and eagerly await the DVD release of the Season 2 episodes in late 2004. My only remaining complaint is the too clever lead-in to each episode which requires excessive button-pushing on the remote to navigate. I mean, just get on with it. Prince Charles will become King in a shorter time.
The storylines are contemporary: embassy take-overs by militant nationalists, insidious plots by Arab terrorists, illegal arms deals by enterprising Russians involving Whitehall cabinet officers, and the occasional appearance of IRA bombers. Gone are the good old days of KGB machinations on behalf of the Evil Empire. The episodes are slickly written with surprising plot twists. And MI-6 across the river maintains a scheming and patronizing presence.
Part of the show's attraction is that it doesn't paint its MI-5 heroes as perfect. They have relationship problems; they embezzle money from the Service; and perhaps have dark secrets in the past that invite blackmail during intra-office power struggles. Why, it sounds like any company I've ever worked for!
The end of the last episode in Series 1 is one of the best I've ever seen. It'll make you think twice before installing that elaborate security system on your house, or at least make you aware of the dangers posed by a small child when catalyzed by chocolate icing.
66 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2005
When I played the first episode of MI-5, Volume 1, my heart sank farther and farther over the course of the next hour. The cinematography was weirdly cheery, the villains were completely without menace, and the main characters were confusing, vaguely characterized, and seem a little too young for the genre of the show. After this episode, I was already thinking about how much I'd fetch when I send this DVD set to a second-hand bin.
But as Episode 2 rolled along, it's like the show woke up from slumber and began to gallop.
The comparisons to 24 are a little convenient -- two espionage shows on two sides of the Atlantic, both surfacing around the crucial year of 2001? But if you go into MI-5 expecting the ferocious action, ruthless characters, endless treacheries and gritty camera work of 24, you'd probably be a little disappointed. MI-5 doesn't quite have the gut punch of 24 -- few shows do -- but what it does have is a very good cast, unusual plotting, a quirky sense of humour, and an eye for detail for the minutiae of life in espionage. Also, because it's not bound to the real-time and L.A.-centric conceits of 24, MI-5 is actually broader in scope, dealing with Irish terrorists, Islam, race-motivated hate crimes, and European anarchists all within the first six episodes collected here.
While I was initially skeptical of how babyfaced the actors looked, they prove to be very fine performers. According to the supplementary materials on the DVDs, half of the members of MI-5 in real life are under the age of 40, so in that respect, the casting would make sense. Matthew MacFadyen, despite his soft eyes and boyish good looks, can deliver intensity and resilience which convince us he could really be the second-in-command of this section of MI-5, Keeley Hawes drips with doe-eyed beauty and great comic timing, and David Oyelowo mixes mischief and determination nicely. The crowning member of the cast is Peter Firth as Harry Pearce, the inscrutable leader of the group; he conveys both the steely core of the character and the humanity.
I can't fathom why the pilot, with its weak, incoherent plot involving an anti-abortion terrorist with no sense of menace, was so unengaging. But aside from this one dud, the other five episodes are in fine, engaging form. MI-5 has its share of nail-biting scenes, the most powerful of which is the infamous Episode 2 ending, which was so harrowingly intense that it probably trumps any shock scene ever delivered by 24 -- no small feat indeed. After that it's a fabulous ride, culminating in an Episode Six with a thrillingly broad scope, brisk pacing, and another very satisfying suspense sequence as the final course. And throughout the episodes, the writers keep a keen eye towards the fascinating details of life as a "spook", an added layer of fascination which gives the show a unique character and brings us closer to what it's like being an MI-5 agent.
Aside from the unsatisfying pilot, there are just a few minor gripes: The DVD design went nuts trying to be creative, but ends up with a design that's awkward to navigate as well as buggy -- several buttons on the menu froze up my DVD player, and none of the main-menu items are marked. Please, next time, don't sacrifice convenient access for style. They made a great effort to include lots of bonus materials, but the cast/crew interviews are shallow and sluggish in pace (more editing please), making all the actors seem sleepy and unfocused. And since this set is only six episodes long, the overall arc of the episodes will seem a lot less satisfying than a full-on season. However, these shows remain a great introduction to a show that carries all the thrills of the espionage genre, while giving it a unique spin.
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
I first became addicted to this show, known as Spooks in the UK, when it first appeared on A&E. MI-5 is an example of television at its finest. This show gives us a fictional insider view of Britian's domestic intelligence division known as MI-5, and we're not talking James Bond (anyway, he was MI-6). This show presents these people as patriots fighting to keep their country safe, but it's also not afraid to present the morally questionable side, as well -- not something you usually see on American television. In the US, when a show like this is made it treats the players as heroes making a great sacrifice to keep the country safe, rarely as human beings who sometimes have to make morally questionable decisions, decisions that force them to question whether they are doing the right thing or not. Shows like Alias and 24 come close, but they are more thriller shows with thriller plots and violence. This show works in real-time, often using real-time events as catalyst for their plots. What sets this show apart from the likes of Alias and 24 is the human factor: the series focuses more on the human drama than it does the thriller elements. Matthew MacFadyen is absolutely wonderful as Tom Quinn, who over time begins to wonder about the decisions he's had to make and the affect they've had on his life and those around him. Keeley Hawes as Zoe Reynolds, David Oyelowo as Danny Hunter, and Peter Firth as Harry Pearce are exceptional supporting players. Don't let the British setting keep you from watching this series. Unlike any show currently on television in America, based in America, this series reminds us there is still a war on terror and we're only moments away from another disaster. It's edge-of-your-seat plotting and exceptional acting.
73 of 84 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2004
MI-5 is first-rate. The script writing is crisp, clean, and edgy. The characters are, as you might expect from the British, understated, cool, and witty.
The characters are engaging and the viewer is slowly drawn into their personal dramas. The last scene of the first season is an emotional cliff-hanger. I have been reliving that scene for more than week - can't get it out of my mind. Can't shake the riveting drama of it all.
The plots are good. For a believer, there is a good bit of anti-Christian sentiment which is difficult. But Britain itself is rather like that these days- a bit cynical, jaded, and even sardonic. But at the bottom of it all, there is love, faith, and a resilient optimism which rebounds the soul, if not the spirit.
There is excellent balance between dramatic tension and action/adventure. This is not pretty-blonde-on-the-arm James Bond stuff. This show has an edge of steel.
All in all, very edgy and sophisticated.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2004
I started watching MI-5 on A&E as the show's title inspired some interest in me. It's since become probably one of my favourite shows on television. I'm also a fan of 24, but you definitely can't compare the two in my mind: 24 tends to do the unexpected, but that in itself is almost becoming expected. MI-5, on the other hand, seems to me a much truer to life glimpse at the roles of agents in England.
As for a few comments about the 'negative' portrayal of America, I don't for a second think that the portrayal is meant to be unrealistic or as negative as the other reviewers may believe. Although in this world MI-5 and the CIA may cooperate on matters of mutual concern, they're still very much separate entities working for different governments - governments with different views of how the world should look and function. And as this show is from the English perspective, it makes perfect sense for the shows perspective to be skewed toward a more European view - and obviously the conflict filled interactions make for a more interesting story line.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2004
I just watched the DVDs today, and if you are a fan at all of espionage/action/mystery shows, I recommend this series. It is great to watch on TV, but these DVDs have the entire episodes that were shown on the BBC, but had parts cut out for the American release (on A&E) for commercial breaks. Watching the extended episodes is wonderful...like new episodes or more in depth episodes. The extras are great to watch, especially the interviews with the cast members and how they talk about their careers and their characters. The only problem I had with the DVDs is that the menus don't tell you which episode is which, but that is such a minor thing to me, since it is a delight to have one of my absolute favorite shows on DVD to watch whenever I need a MI-5 fix, since there haven't been new episodes in ages and it is never on when I want to watch it. I definitely recommend that this DVD series be added to your collection if you are into spy/action series.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2006
As someone who actually has the set let me tell you that they are NOT the edited versions that air on A&E. These are the original broadcasts from BBC. Each episode runs 60 minutes start to finish. (not the typical 45 minutes of American TV shows edited for advertising time).
The major down side of this set is that whlie American television series typically have 20+ episodes in a sesaon, MI-5 (aka Spooks) has 6 episodes in it's first series. That's all this box set contains. $40 for 6 episodes is steep in my book.
That being said. It is an excellent show. Great production values, intelligent action (outsmart more than outgun), solid acting and conceivable plot lines (abortion clinic bomings, racist groups, hostage situation at an embassy). If you are looking for the british version of 24, look elsewhere. I love 24, great fun, but this is vastly different. It's a thinking mans spy show.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2004
I had never seen the Show MI-5 (Spooks) until I bought the Box set from work - I am so glad I did! I would have spent twice my money to own it. This Series is phenomenal. The acting is excellent, the actors are exellent and the stories are amazing. It is so refreshing to finally be challenged in a tv series - and not be pandered to with lukewarm plots designed not to intimidate the squeamish. The jargon, technical familarity and thorough research that goes into each episode is reminiscent of the early ER days - however, with less gore!
MI-5 is the culmination of British Dramatic television, completely building on the excellent grounwork set by Cracker and The Knock. If you are at all interested in good drama with intelligent plotwork and a keen interest in espionage - definitely MI-5 is a must for your collection!
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2004
I was thrilled when this came out in dvd in a format for US viewing and pre-ordered it immediately, have really enjoyed seeing the uncut episodes in order to get all the details. The only criticism is the overly complicated menu in order to get to the episodes, you put the disk in and wait for a menu to appear, and instead you get a picture of a desk top, and then you realize a voice is droning in the background and what it's muttering are instructions on how to get to the episodes. There are a lot of extra features, but they're included in the overly cute menu packaging where you have to either try to pay attention to the voice or consult the 3-page outline included in the packaging, and then click on the feature you want and wait an unusually long time for it to load. It would have been a lot more convenient if they had run the episodes on the first two disks, and put all the extra features on the third. After all the work that went into the over-complicated menu, the actual packaging is cheap and I had to break one of the plastic tabs to release one of the dvd's. But if you love the show by all means get the dvds in order to see the episodes in entirety.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2011
This show is intelligent and keeps you on your toes all the time. Its very fast verbally but you'll get used to it after a while.
I have watched every series and it's excruciating having to wait so long for each series to be released here in the US. In britain it's called Spooks, which means spies in the UK, but because of the negative connotations associated with that word here in the US, the series is called MI-5. It is uncanny how current the story line is on a global level. I highly recommend this show. However, be warned of the addiction.