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The Sandbaggers Set 1 (1978) – DVD review

Sandbaggers Set 1 DVD


Series Created by Ian Mackintosh
Starring Roy Marsden, Ray Lonnen, Bob Sherman, Alan MacNaughtan, Elizabeth Bennett


  • All seven first season episodes
  • A Guide to Sandbaggers Abbreviations

Released by: BFS Video.
Rating: NR
Region: 1
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Own It.

Neil Burnside (Marsden) is a ruthless, cynically, manipulative bastard. Which is what you need in a Director of Operations for MI6, the foreign intelligence arm of Her Majesty’s Government. He’s the one who sends out Sandbaggers, elite operatives like Willie Caine (Lonnen) and Laura Dickens (Diane Keen) that leave for foreign countries at a moment’s notice on covert operations that range from preventing defections of British VIPs to carrying out assassinations of other country’s VIPs. Burnside not only has to fight the forces of international Communism and global terrorism, but also his own government, which seems mired in party power politics, bureaucracy, and moral hand-wringing. He does have (somewhat) trusty allies in Sir Geoffrey Wellingham (MacNaughtan), his contact in the government and former father in law. There is also his contact at the CIA, Jeff Ross (Sherman) and even his sarcastic secretary Diane Lawley (Bennett). But the responsibility of The Sandbaggers falls to Burnside alone when he decides to send them out in the Cold War, even to their death.

Spy shows like Alias and the James Bond movies are fun and exciting to watch, but they have as much to do with real world espionage as The West Wing has to do with the parliament of whores we call a government. Burnside even says in an episode “If you want James Bond, go to your library.” The agents rarely go armed, attack foes like Shaolin priests, or have gadgets that would make The Sharper Image green with envy. The series isn’t so much about the battles between spy vs. spy, but spy vs. government. For example, the government wants Burnside to send Sandbaggers to rescue a Norwegian spy plane on the Russian border. Do they want to help save the crew or get valuable intelligence? No, they figure the Norwegians will buy a British jet engine if they help out. The conflicts between the various ministries and government officials seem to constantly bedevil Burnside in his duty.

But Burnside isn’t a shining knight for democracy. He won’t hesitate to lose some chess pieces if that’s what it takes, or manipulating their personal lives as long as he gets the results he needs. These decisions may bother him, but he gives them without hesitation. Roy Marsden masterfully portrays the conflicts of a man whose job causes him confusion, irritation, and grief, but can’t let go because he must do his duty. And maybe in a secret place inside his soul, he enjoys the power, just a bit.

The only feature on this disc is a guide to the abbreviations that are used in the series and any bureaucracy is festoon with. This can be useful, especially for an American viewer not familiar with Britain’s political structure. However, it only gives the name being abbreviated, not what it means or does. A brief definition would have been much more helpful. Usually I would complain about the paucity of features, but the box sets of the second and third seasons contain more, so I will hold off my criticism.

The Sandbaggers is British drama at its best and it still scarily relevant today. Buy it. Now.

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