DVD Review: Callan – The Colour Years

Callan - The Colour Years


Were it possible to corrupt the ratings system of this website, the five stars you see above this review would right now be flashing, in big, friendly letters, the words BUY ME NOW!, with a direct link to a well known DVD retailer and a recommendation to take a long weekend off work to watch all 22 episodes of Callan: The Colour Years.

As it is, I need to write some more about seasons three and four of one of the most consistently high quality series to ever originate from these shores, two years worth of spy-based drama which provided the late Edward Woodward with some of his finest moments caught on celluloid.

David Callan (Woodward) is an agent for a shadowy branch of the British Government, a section which must remain hush-hush while undertaking missions of a sensitive nature involving rival spies and state secrets.

Aided by his very own bête noire, Lonely (Russell Hunter), Callan is briefed by the enigmatic Hunter (William Squire) and for the majority of this run sent on missions alongside the younger, less experienced Cross (Patrick Mower).

While many spy series portray their central characters as strong, upright and in possession of the moral upper-hand, Callan refuses to adhere to any such mores. Instead, series creator and frequent writer James Mitchell (When the Boat Comes In) ensures that the darker side of espionage is always at the forefront of the scripts, Callan’s personal views often infringing on his job and invariably causing him grief.

Opening a few months after the close of the black and white 1960s series, Where Else Could I Go finds Callan recuperating in hospital while the world outside keeps on moving, his old sparring partner Toby Meares (Anthony Valentine) relocated to Washington and the cocksure Cross in his place.

Now free from the noirish confines of the monochrome episodes, the programme embraces the colour revolution by jettisoning Callan’s inner monologues but otherwise maintaining the feeling that a spy’s lot is never a happy one. There are no backlot jaunts to warmer climes à la The Saint or the outlandish adventures of any other number of TV agents here: this is a world of discredited backstreet doctors, rainy suburban streets and the odd back alley.

Episodes such as Summoned to Appear and Suddenly – at Home highlight the expendable nature of innocent (and not-so-innocent) bystanders, while Stephanie Beacham and Michael Jayston’s turns in God Help Your Friends are a salutory lesson in what it really means to be a pawn in the game.

As with the previous DVD set, this truly is a must-buy for the dedicated spy fan, a series which rewards the viewer with layered plots and intelligent scripts performed by actors who clearly knew they were involved in something unique. Buy them now. You won’t regret it.


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