Game, Set & Match
The show brings together a wealth of the UK and German's acting talent. Casting well-loved characters is always a challenge for any producer. On the whole, they got it broadly right, though the casting of Ian Holm seems to have been a point of contention, not least for Deighton.
Bernard Samson (Ian Holm)
This is the controversial casting and perhaps key to understanding why Len Deighton pulled the rights after the first broadcast and has maintained a stance of refusing to allow it to be shown. Good actor though he is, for many people Holm is far from the Bernard Samson they imagine from reading the books. Like many of Deighton’s characters, Samson's tough, cynical and a bit of an outsider and clearly working class. Many believe that Holm failed to capture that, though he puts in a bravura performance in parts. One simple issue may be that he's too short, and perhaps looks an unlikely match for any Stasi thug. But, Holm does give Samson some roundedness and in particular plays well the brotherly relationship with Werner Samson, acting often as his conscience.
Fiona Samson (Mel Martin)
An established stage and TV actress, she gives a solid performance, but not one that matches every aspect of the Fiona which the reader develops through the books. Martin does not provide the impression of someone who could pull the wool over Bernard Samson’s eyes as she does in the books. Nevertheless, she does demonstrate an icy will and an evident command and superiority over some of her male colleagues which marked Fiona out from the start as one of the stars of the department, destined for something big. Martin Martin is an established British actress who has done significant amounts of TV work, including period dramas.
Gloria Kent (Amanda Donohoe)
Her depiction of the young intern anxious to make her way in the department, who strikes up a close relationship with Bernard after Fiona goes East, is well realised and believable. As an actress Donohoe is sexy and sassy and portrays Gloria as a youthful livewire who is evidently a match for many in the department, and certainly for Bernard. Bernard's efforts to seduce her, and her actions in sabotaging his wardrobe in a fit of pique is an excellent scene and she plays well of Holm in scenes where his boss Dicky Cruyer is clearly trying to goad Samson into admitting that he fancies her.
Erich Stinnes (Gottfried John)
Very good, establish German actor who came to fame in the eighties with Rainer Werner Fassbiner’s Berlin Alexanderplatz serial on German TV. In Game, Set & Match he has a wonderfully sinister look - and the Baltic German features identified by Deighton in the books - to convince as the mysterious and apparently duplicitous Stasi spy chief. His character contrast well with Holm's and their scenes in the interrogation rooms in Normannenstrasse are excellent. John also gets the essential vulnerability in Stinnes - the German working for the Russians who is dissatisfied with life and despairs of his superiors - which traps Samson into thinking that he is on the level and can be turned.
Frank Harrington (Frederick Treves)
The late British actor played this character as very English, very Jermyn Street, very discreet, and very public school, and the presentation benefits from this portrayl. You get a strong sense of the in loco parentis role he performs to Samson since his father died: joining Bernard in his garret room at Lisl Hennig's hotel and pausing to light up his pipe before telling 'laddie' that he's getting himself into a spot of bother with his investigation of the mole in London. Bernard Samson constantly clashed with the 'old school' of secret service staff, those who he felt belonged more in the Gentlemen's clubs of Pall Mall rather than the tough streets of Berlin, and Treves had that air of insouciance and innate superiority.
Werner Volkmann (Michael Degen)
Physically Degen is not at all how many readers will imagine Werner to be; for example, his Astrakhan coat and bushy moustache are rarely evident. But this German actor does get very well the close brotherly relationship with Bernard and also the entrenched frustration with the operation of the department and his failure to get more work from it. He also portrays superbly how this bulky, tough black marketeer is easily moulded when he moves in with his new wife Zena, who had designs on re-shaping him, much to Bernard's chagrin. The scenes with Bernard in East Berlin, when they are getting the von Munte's out to the east, are excellently played, and Degen shows well the inner fear that lives with someone who day after day had to cross between east and west.
Bret Rensselaer (Anthony Bate)
Anthony Bate was a long-established American character actor, who has appeared in both spy films and TV in the US and over in the UK, particularly in the BBC adaptation of John Le Carré's Smiley's People. His characterisation of Rensselaer is something got spot on: his transatlantic drawl, tinged with a wannabe English accent, is as one would imagine it from the description in the books and he comes across as an archetypal Yank boss giving it to the Limeys in London. Also demonstrates well the frustration that comes with managing Samson's insolence.
Silas Gaunt (Michael Aldridge)
Gaunt is the eminence grise of the department, now semi-retired but clearly plugged into everything that happens there while in semi-retirement in his country house. Aldridge provides a reasonably good portrayal of the character as a bluff, no-nonsense old school agent, but the upper class bonhomie and gusto is overplayed, and he's never believable as the power behind the throne of the Department. In addition, his character's background story is never sufficiently played in the adaptation, in contrast to the detail offered in the books. In the final book of the final trilogy, Charity, Silas's full role in Fiona's defection is revealed in a shocking denouement.
Zena Volkmann (Brigitte Kamer)
As a German actress in a British production she has limitations, but she nevertheless does portray well the inner vulnerability of Zena, who thinks she's part of the great game of spying but is really only just a young woman caught up in a game she cannot control. She plays well opposite Holm, and portrays well the youthful arrogance which Werner falls in love with - but which clearly winds up Samson, who worries about what his best friend Volkmann has got himself into marrying someone half his age, and twice as ambitious. Brigitte is now a well-established German actress in both films and TV.
Dicky Cruyer (Michael Culver)
This was an excellent piece of casting. Culver gets just right the portrayal of an Oxford twit that is Dicky Cruyer through and through - which comes across strongly in the book, with regular references to his time at Balliol - but a twit who is smart enough to understand how to get ahead and has, as Samson puts it, "a PhD in office politics". Where the portrayal is particularly strong is the scenes in Mexico, where he and Bernard are sent to follow up a sighting of Erich Stinnes. Cruyer's efforts to do as little work as possible, but to maximise him time spent sight-seeing and avoiding the heat riles Samson and leads to some wonderful interplay between the two characters who have a mutual dislike, but are forced to work together.
George Kozinski (Gary Whelan)
Gary Whelan is an established TV actor, having been in TV series in the UK like 'London's Burning' and also EastEnders. Here he portrays the cuckolded husband of Fiona's sister Tessa Samson. While a relatively minor part - who actually really becomes significant in the last three Samson novels, Faith, Hope and Charity - Whelan does long-suffering to a 't' and portrays a man who loves his wife but can do little to stop her philandering with Bernard's colleagues. A confidante to Bernard and supplier of second-hand cars, in the latter novels of the series (not part of this TV trilogy) George's character comes into his own and reveals some surprising truths behind this tale.
Tessa Kozinski (Gail Harrison)
Some viewers might disagree, but it is arguable that she gets accurately the mix of upper-class confidence mixed with personal insecurity which means the flighty Tessa flits from man to man without ever finding the love she's looking for. Her support for Bernard against the machinations of her 'beastly' father is portrayed with an element of secret longing and admiration, which is hinted at in the books. Very much a 'daddy's girl', she defends her sister Fiona and Bernard from the machinations of her scheming father David Kimber-Hutchinson after Fiona's defection. Her subsequent death in Spy Line leads Bernard Samson to open up a whole new line of inquiry into his wife's defection which completely turns on its head the reader's perception of the narrative across all nine books.
Visit the gallery to see these actors in character.