Allow me to introduce you to a new fandom of mine - Callan, a British TV series from 1967-72 starring Edward Woodward (The Equalizer, The Wicker Man) in the title role. Callan is a Cold War spy drama in the tradition of Len Deighton's The Ipcress File and John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Its world is dark and bleak, its characters morally ambiguous, and its stories often end on a downbeat turn. (The first episode of the series is called "The Good Ones Are All Dead"). James Bond this is not; in fact, Callan was conceived as the antithesis to Bond-style escapism. It depicts the seedy side of espionage with its criminal associates and cynical bureaucracy, beneath which agents toil like pawns on a chessboard, as likely to be killed by friend as foe.
So why do I recommend this series? Well, if you're like me, you're partial to darkness and angst ;) But even if that's not your usual cup of tea, I suggest you check out Callan on the strength of its acting alone. Woodward does a masterful job of portraying the morally conflicted assassin, David Callan, both frightening in his anger and heartbreakingly vulnerable in his grief. He is joined by Anthony Valentine (Colditz, Raffles) with whom he shares crackling on-screen chemistry, and Russell Hunter (The Gaffer), a skilled character actor who practically inhabits his role. This top-notch talent is supported by a top-notch script. The plots are complex and clever, featuring lies, subterfuge, and misdirection - all the classic spy storylines - that demand close attention from the audience. Sharp dialogue takes the place of action in most parts, shining the spotlight on character interaction. Many scenes read as if they'd come from a superb stage play.
Finally, for the slash fans, there's a ton of wonderful subtext surrounding the two handsome leads, Callan and Meres, as well as several canonically gay/bisexual side characters.
In conclusion, you'll enjoy Callan if
- You relish historically-based spy dramas with complex plots.
- You like morally ambiguous and conflicted main characters.
- You are a sucker for tragedy, angst, and every deathfic trope.
- You appreciate good-looking men in three-piece suits.
On the other hand, this series may not be for you if
- You prefer slick "James Bond" action, adventure, and romance.
- You need a protagonist that you can always root for.
- You want modern cinematography and video quality.
- You are bothered by some degree of sexism and wish to see a diverse cast.
In the following sections, I provide a detailed description of the setting and characters. Interested readers may watch the entire show on my Youtube playlist, or just check out the recommended episodes below. (Due to the age of the series, some episodes from seasons 1-2 are missing from the BBC archives. I have posted all that are commercially available).
( Overview )
( Main Characters )
( Supporting Characters )
( Recommended Episodes )
( External Links )