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BBC Home Video presents
MI-5: Volume 1 (2003)

"Well, assuming she passes vetting, when might you be addressing the microscopic issue that your real name is Tom Quinn and you're a spy? "
- Harry Pearce (Peter Firth)

Review By: Kevin Clemons  
Published: January 11, 2004

Stars: Matthew MacFadyen, Keeley Hawes, David Oyelowo
Other Stars: Peter Firth
Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for mild violence and language
Run Time: 06h:05m:12s
Release Date: January 13, 2004
UPC: 794051187222
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+BB+ B+

DVD Review

It is probably a general understanding these days that real life British intelligence officers are not Bond, James Bond. And while that is disheartening it is something that we all must accept. The participants in the incredibly kinetic MI-5 (known as Spooks across the pond) show just as much charisma and, while there are no outrageous stunts or shaken martinis, these intelligence officers are equally clever, even if their work is less glamorous. In short, it is a perfectly realized television show that may be the best of its kind on the planet.

Rather than lumping it in with Alias or other shows that have tried to reinvigorate the spy genre on television, it becomes apparent that MI-5 is not fascinated with being flashy or melodramatic. It is refreshing to see a debut season of a television program that simply introduces the characters and gets down to the business at hand, rather than offering up cheap emotional twists—like, say, a long lost mother—as others have done.

The central characters are a trio of counter-terrorism agents led by Tom (MacFayden), a seemingly normal guy, who must hide his real identity from his girlfriend, Ellie (Esther Hall). It seems that a while ago, Tom met Ellie while working undercover, and she knows him as Matthew, a lonely IT guy. The remaining pair of operatives are Zoe (Hawes) and Danny (Oyelowo), but all in all, the show revolves around Tom. This is, in a nutshell, the general plot of MI-5, cool agents that are not flashy, and an understated relationship subplot—a good thing when the series is as smartly written as MI-5 is.

The first release of the series on DVD features the premier season consisting of six episodes that are now completely intact (after having been edited for time for American broadcast). Highlight episodes include the pilot, which involves a woman who blows up family planning centers with bombs obtained from IRA, and the sophomore entry, which focuses on a plot to create race riots and wars, with one of the agents on the case meeting a particularly gruesome end.

MI-5 is a well conceived and smartly realized series that captures and holds viewer attention. The interaction between the less-than-glamorous characters is refreshing, which is fascinating in and of itself given that the typical sell that spies are overly flashy and astoundingly great looking. By the middle mark of the first episode, I was involved with the characters, and as the series continued, it kept my interest at the same high level.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio, MI-5 looks fine, to be sure, but there are a bevy of problems throughout. The most noticeable flaw is a constant softness that exists throughout, making the image appear murky at times. Edge enhancement is mildly distracting at times, while colors look nice with no bleeding evident, but they lack a certain amount of vibrancy. Given the flashy nature of the show, I had hoped for a much nicer looking picture but what is here is certainly a fine effort.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is very nicely done with crisp and clear sound throughout. The center channel reproduces the dialogue quite nicely with no distortion or dropouts evident. The surround speakers get a nice amount of activity with great directionality that is never showy yet gets the job done. The .1 LFE channel shows moderate activity but never too much.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 6 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
6 Deleted Scenes
11 Featurette(s)
6 Feature/Episode commentaries by actress Keeley Hawes, director Rob Bailey, writer Simon Mirren, writer Howard Brenton, writer David Wolstencroft, director Bharat Nalluri, and producer Jane Featherstone
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: test disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Each disc boasts a large number of extra features at first glance, but closer inspection reveals the inclusions to be more moderate. There are commentary tracks for each and every episode featuring writer David Wolstencroft, director Bharat Nalluri, producer Jane Featherstone, actors Keeley Hayes and David Oyelowo, directors Rob Baileyand Andy Wilson, writers Simon Mirren and Howard Brenton, and editor Colin Green. These tracks are very informative and I applaud the creators for getting so much talent involved. It is nice to hear each and every aspect offered by the show's creative team, from the writers to the editors. There is not one track on the set that is dull; in fact, quite the opposite, and each is worth a listen.

Deleted scenes are offered for every episode and they generally run about three minutes in length. While some were rightfully left out of the show, one or two offer some depth to the plot of the episode.

Next are three featurettes covering various realms of the series. The first is titled The Origins of MI-5 and it deals largely with the show's inception, including how the creators wanted to sort of reinvent the genre—something I believe they have done. The next is The Look of MI-5 and as the title states, it focuses on the visual style of the series, which is very original. Interviews with crew members lend a lot of knowledge on these spectacular visuals. The last one looks at actress Jenny Agutter, who plays Tessa. I appreciate this inclusion, but one of such length could have easily included each of the main stars. Perhaps on Volume 2.

The remaining special features can best be described as a collection of very brief featurettes and text pages focusing on everything from the lingo of the series to character profiles and biographies.

A substantial amount of DVD-ROM content is provided, mainly scripts, wallpaper, and photo galleries.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

MI-5 was unknown to me before I watched the first disc and I am now officially hooked. The most miraculous thing about the series is that it took a premise I thought might be entertaining and turned it into something truly fascinating. It is a show with every element that makes television great. Highly Recommended.


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