TV Tuesday: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Today I’m debuting a new feature post series: TV Tuesdays. I love TV as much as I love cinema, though my taste in television is far more narrow than it is in movies. I’m going to use this feature to look at different aspects of shows: a particular episode I love, a miniseries, maybe a summary of a whole show, a tribute to a particular character, looking at the design and what-not. Anything that takes my fancy, really. Today, it’s more of a general look.

For the inaugural post I’m going to focus on a ’60s show, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., to go along with my Sixties September challenge.

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This is actually my third time trying to watch The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (MFU). The first time I got through one and a half seasons but lost steam and then forgot everything I watched. So, I tried again and didn’t get very far. About a month ago, I became determined to finally get through it. (Since starting this post I’ve strayed back to murder mysteries as I was feeling quite tired and MFU requires a lot more energy/concentration).

It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed it  – quite the contrary – but ’60s shows (aside from Star Trek and comedies) seem a lot more difficult for me to watch. I think this is largely because, at least in the case of MFU, there’s not as much dialogue and so I have to pay more attention than I normally do with modern shows. A lot happens through action, which I love, but it means re-training myself to leave my phone alone and watch the TV. But MFU is worth it.

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This show has nearly everything I could want: witty banter, handsome men, cute frocks, strong, interesting women, wacky escapades, diabolical schemes and, of course, charming, entertaining spies. Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin are just great characters that I love spending timing with.

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I’d forgotten in the intervening years since first watching this, is how funny it is. Robert Vaughn and David McCallum have great comic timing – they also, naturally, have great chemistry, which has been one of the enduring appeals of the show.

One of the other most appealing features, and likely one of the reasons there’s such a large female fanbase, is the way everyday women are often part of the story. They’re brought in by our favourite agents, who show a lot of faith in their ability to help. Using everyday people – both men and women – as guest characters was a clever way to get people watching at home involved in the show. They could, and we still can, imagine themselves in their places – that they, too, could help Agents Solo and Kuryakin save the world! And still get to go home at the end of the day.

I also really like how the fight scenes are choreographed. They’re a little more rough and tumble than I’m used to in older stuff. Sure, the stunt doubles are laughingly easy to spot but it’s part of the charm and the fights themselves fit the tone of the show.

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It’s fun seeing guest stars who would go on to become famous for their own shows or movies (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, a very young Kurt Russell, Tura Satana in a fabulous cow-print coat) but even those I didn’t recognise have been great to watch. (Actually I’ve had quite a lot of fun spotting ‘crossover’ (guest) actors between this and Star Trek, including James Doohan aka Scotty, Ricardo Montalban aka Khan, and Jill Ireland, McCallum’s wife, who was Leila in the TOS episode “This Side of Paradise”).

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So far, this time through, my favourite episodes are: “The Dove Affair”, “The Finny Foot Affair”, “The Project Strigas Affair” (Shatner! Nimoy!) and maybe “The Quadripartite Affair”. But they’re all great. This show is full of fun romps, sarcastic quips, swanky soirees and sparkling gowns, and courageous capers. What could be better than that? I’m looking forward to delving back into more episodes and, hopefully, finally finishing the show.

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The Man From U.N.C.L.E., 2015

I wasn’t going to write about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. here, because I felt a little embarrassed at my enthusiasm (my letterboxd review is nothing if not enthusiastic). Then I thought, wait, that’s silly. I love movies – I mean, why else would I have started this blog? And my enthusiasm should be reflected here. I think my posts lack a lot when I try to be serious and not just resort to effusive rambling (which is my forte, let’s be honest), because I’m not that great at being, well, critical.

XXX MAN UNCLE MOV JY 1187 .JPG A ENTAnyway, this movie just made me so damn happy. I can’t remember the last time I had quite so much fun at the cinema. It was really hard not to clap with joy at certain points in the film. It also makes me extra happy that a lot of my friends, and people whose opinions I respect, have enjoyed it just as much as I did. Falling in love with a film is always wonderful, but sharing that love with others is even better.

It was basically just a whole lot of fun, and really cute, which is all I wanted. I mean, heck, I would’ve gleefully watched Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer ride around Rome on a Vespa for two hours (there was definitely not enough Vespa riding) so perhaps I’m not the best judge here. But as much fun as that may have been, this was still better.D3S_2026.DNGThere’s nothing subtle about this film (especially not the innuendo), which is great, because I’m not that keen on subtle. More is more, I say! But Guy Ritchie does make very stylish, slick films and this oozes style. From the smooth soundtrack to the impeccable costumes, style permeates every aspect of the film.

I like Henry Cavill a whole lot (ha! That’s an understatement if ever there were one) so to finally see him in a film I thoroughly enjoyed (in a lead role, at least) is nice for a change. He was maybe a little stiff as Napoleon (especially if you have Robert Vaughn’s performance in mind) but there was obviously a particular (and quite different) vision for Napoleon in this film, and I think he fulfilled that vision really well. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Armie Hammer, but I just loved him as Ilya (and his Russian accent was a lot better than I had thought it would be). Hammer and Cavill have great chemistry, actually – I mean, that scene where they were squabbling over clothes in the boutique was hilarious – and watching interviews with them it’s clear they get along really well.

And Alicia Vikander is lovely and very funny as Gaby. She was a refreshing character in this sort of film, and anyone who dares to dismiss her as a ‘Bond girl’ or ‘male fantasy’ is so wrong. My friend on Tumblr wrote a great thing that articulates well what I intuitively felt about her: if she’s any kind of fantasy, she’s most assuredly a female one. And obviously I want all of Gaby’s clothes.

I also really loved Hugh Grant as Waverly and I’m sad there wasn’t more of him in the film. As it’s unlikely there’ll be a sequel if the box office is anything to go by (which is awful and wrong), I doubt I’ll get to see more of him as Waverly in the future. Elizabeth Debicki stayed just this side of hammy as Victoria, and she made a pretty convincing criminal mastermind, I think.

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I wasn’t expecting a whole lot here but I got what I wanted and more: a fun, stylish ’60s spy film with handsome actors and pretty clothes. And I think it’s really a solid spy/action film, to be honest. It got a little murky toward the end, and the ‘flashback to just moments before’ thing got old pretty quickly (especially upon rewatching), but the rest more than made up for it. And though much of it was maybe predictable, the biggest ‘twist’ managed to surprise me. Having been disappointed in the past, I lowered my expectations considerably, so maybe it wasn’t difficult to exceed them. But deep down, I always knew I was going to love this film. I can easily see it becoming an all-time favourite once I can rewatch it obsessively on DVD.