Sam Neill as Sidney Reilly, Russian-born British Secret Service agent and anti-Bolshevik
New York City to Berlin, Fall 1924
Series: Reilly: Ace of Spies
Episode: “The Trust” (Episode 10)
Air Date: November 2, 1983
Director: Martin Campbell
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Waller
Ninety years ago today, Sidney Reilly was executed in a forest outside Moscow by a Soviet firing squad overseen by OGPU officer Grigory Feduleev. Reilly had been earlier tried to death in absentia after a failed coup of the Bolshevik government in 1918. Seven years later, he was lured back into the Soviet Union by undercover OGPU agents who had formed The Trust, ostensibly a secret organization raising funds to remove the Bolsheviks from power. Reilly was arrested as soon as he had crossed the Finnish border in late September 1925. Although he would be questioned for more than a month before his execution on November 5, the Soviets almost immediately issued a statement that he had been killed during a border skirmish.
Due to his own self-promotion and tall tales, Reilly developed a legendary status in his own lifetime as one of the greatest spies of his day. Several books and the 1983 miniseries Reilly: Ace of Spies have perpetuated this myth, but the truth is that Reilly was, in fact, a shady opportunist who crossed the globe as he swindled and killed to achieve his means. He was indeed recruited by MI6 during World War I and had been sent to Russia to spy for them, but his true motives were quickly made apparent as he ignored his directive and began working to actively displace the Bolshevik government. Disowned by the British government and nearly broke from relentless attempts to finance a coup, Reilly was quite vulnerable by the time The Trust came calling.
The miniseries flashes forward six years in its tenth episode, “The Trust.” Sam Neill’s Reilly is living in New York, independently raising funds for his coup with financiers ranging from the swaggering but addiction-laden Boris Savinkov to Henry Ford. The episode also incorporates the controversial “Zinoviev Letter,” which was published in the Daily Mail on October 25, 1924 a few days before the British general election as a severe embarrassment for the British Labour Party as Anglo-Soviet treaties are demolished. Historians now believe that the letter, which called for a rise of communist activity in England, was a forgery; some historians still believe that Reilly may have been involved to some extent.
At any rate, the episode provides an introduction to Reilly’s final act. Set in the fall of 1924, Reilly is shown to be suspicious of The Trust and surrounded by betrayals, notably in the form of his new secretary Eugenie. He maintains a healthy (perhaps too healthy) relationship with his now ex-wife Nadia, and it is while traveling in Berlin during the episode’s finale that he meets his final wife, the vivacious actress Nelly “Pepita” Bobadilla.
What’d He Wear?
Andrew Cook’s 2004 biography, Ace of Spies: The True Story of Sidney Reilly, includes OGPU agent Alexander Yakushev’s first impressions of meeting Sidney Reilly when he made his final journey across the Finnish border:
[Reilly’s] dark eyes expressed something biting and cruel; his lower lip drooped deeply and was too slick—the neat black hair, the demonstratively elegant suit.
Yakushev’s mention of a “demostratively elegant suit” jibes with one of the more accurate aspects of the miniseries; Reilly was a fashionable dresser. Through most of “The Trust,” when not sporting a dinner jacket or black stroller, Sam Neill wears a sharp Prince of Wales check double-breasted, three-piece suit in black and white glen plaid with a muted red windowpane overcheck.
The double-breasted suit jacket has a high 6-on-2 button stance that he almost always wears closed.
Both of the sharp peak lapels have a long buttonhole stitched into them. The welted breast pocket slants slightly down toward the center of the chest, where it meets the top left button.
Reilly’s suit jacket also has flapped hip pockets straight across his waist. It is ventless with slightly padded shoulders and roped sleeveheads.
The suit has a matching vest – or waistcoat – with four welt pockets. The front is single-breasted with a six high-fastening buttons closing over a notched bottom. The back is brown silk with an adjustable strap.
Reilly’s reverse-pleated suit trousers have a long rise that is covered by the waistcoat but likely worn with suspenders. They have no back pockets, but Reilly often places his hands in the on-seam side pockets. The bottoms are cuffed with turn-ups.
Reilly wears a plain white dress shirt with a large point collar, front placket, and double cuffs – typically fastened with gold links.
In New York, Reilly wears a brown necktie with a pattern of tan diamonds with navy centers and borders. With this tie, he wears a silver collar bar secured under the tie knot.
When he travels to Berlin at the episode’s conclusion, he wears a solid brown butterfly-shaped bow tie and no collar bar. The choice to give Reilly a bow tie may have come from a photo of the actual agent in 1924, sporting an equally large butterfly bow tie.
Including both neckwear options, Reilly wears primarily brown accessories and outerwear with this suit. His shoes are dark brown leather split-toe oxfords, worn with dark brown dress socks.
In both “The Trust” and the following episode – “The Last Journey” – Reilly wears an elegant camelhair overcoat with raglan sleeves. Like his suit jacket, it is double-breasted with a 6-on-2 button stance, although it also has a belt that fits through a loop on each side of his waist and fastens through a brass buckle in the front. Edge swelling is present throughout the coat, including on the large lapels, single-button cuff straps, and the patch hip pockets’ flaps. A single vent splits the back of the jacket halfway up to the belt.
Reilly had been wearing fedoras on the series since the second episode, set in 1904 Manchuria, but it wasn’t until this time – the early 1920s – that they truly began to become popular among gents. In this episode, he wears a light gray felt fedora with a wide, dark brown grosgrain ribbon.
Evidently the weather has gotten chillier by the time Reilly arrives in Berlin by the end of the episode; he has taken to wearing a printed paisley silk scarf in various shades of light brown with red fringe on the ends.
Perhaps as a nod to Fleming’s James Bond, Reilly wears a compact Beretta .25 semi-automatic pistol in a brown leather shoulder rig, secured in a holster under his left arm.
How to Get the Look
Reilly was a shrewd businessman who knew could influence and manipulate people as needed. His sharp Prince of Wales check suit that took him from New York to Berlin in 1924 indicated the fashionable and powerful man wearing it.
- Black-and-white glen plaid Prince of Wales check wool suit with muted red windowpane overcheck:
- Double-breasted 6-on-2 jacket with peak lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Single-breasted 6-button vest with four welt pockets, notched bottom, and adjustable rear strap
- Single reverse-pleated high-rise trousers with straight side pockets and turn-ups/cuffed bottoms
- White dress shirt with large point collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
- Brown diamond-printed necktie
- Dark brown leather split-toe derby shoes
- Dark brown dress socks
- Camelhair double-breasted belted overcoat with double-breasted 6-on-2 front, raglan sleeves with 1-button cuff straps, and single rear vent
- Light gray felt fedora with dark brown grosgrain ribbon
- Light brown printed paisley silk scarf with red fringe
- Brown leather shoulder holster
Feeling a bit daring or just retro? Swap out the brown patterned necktie for a solid brown bow tie.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the series.