Sam Neill as Sidney Reilly, shrewd British agent and anti-Bolshevik
New York City and 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
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Although there’s little consensus on the details of his life—including his birth name—the famous adventurer who would eventually known as Sidney Reilly is said to have been born on March 24, though even the year is a question of debate; he may have been born Georgy Rosenblum in Odessa in 1873, or he may have been born Sigmund Rosenblum to a wealth Bielsk family in 1874. His escapades as a British agent during the Russian Revolution cemented his self-aggrandized reputation as the “Ace of Spies”, establishing a legend that would inspire no less than Ian Fleming when developing the character of his fictional agent James Bond.
The opportunistic Reilly—as he had rechristened himself during his initial service for Special Branch in the late 1890s—never missed a chance to build his wealth or reputation, crafting a legend during his lifetime that would live well beyond his ostensible execution by the Soviets in 1925. A household name by the end of the decade, Reilly was the subject of multiple books, including Ace of Spies, written by the son of R.H. Bruce Lockhart, the Scottish-born diplomat who had worked with Reilly in the infamous “Ambassadors’ Plot” attempt to overthrow the fledgling Bolshevik government in 1918 and resulted in both men being sentenced to death in absentia. Robin Lockhart’s book was adapted into Reilly: Ace of Spies, a stylish twelve-part miniseries that originally aired in ITV across the fall of 1983.
The tenth episode “The Trust” begins a year before Reilly’s demise, when he’s living in the United States, no longer officially in the British Secret Service’s employment as he independently attempts to raise funds that would continue his ongoing battle against the Bolsheviks, who are now firmly in control of Russia. Back in Moscow, the OGPU has organized “The Trust”, a covert counterintelligence program aimed to lure enemies like Reilly and the fiery Boris Savinkov back to Russia, where they can be captured, questioned, and executed.
Reilly continues working behind the scenes, playing a hand in the controversial “Zinoviev letter” specifically intended to divert the British from engaging in a treat with the Bolshevik government. He grows his operation by auctioning his wealth of Napoleonic art and artifacts and hiring a seductive new assistant Eugenie (Eleanor David) and even enlists the help of his ex-wife Nadia (Celia Gregory) and her new husband to take a meeting with Henry Ford and gain access to his “unlimited funds”. Once Eugenie proves less than loyal in several ways, Reilly sails to Berlin, where he meets the spirited actress Pepita Bobadilla (Laura Davenport), whom he would eventually marry.
I’d previously written about how the ending of No Time to Die suggested to me some parallels of how Sidney Reilly met his end (and I’d suggest not reading on if you’re not already familiar with how Daniel Craig’s final Bond movie concluded!)
Both the fictional Bond and the real Reilly had left the British secret service and, after lives of womanizing, were looking to settle down with their latest romantic partner when called by an irresistible impulse—if you’ll permit a phrase cribbed from Anatomy of a Murder—to one final vendetta against their most prolific enemy. While the cinematic Bond does call upon MI6 before his venture against the evil Safin, Reilly had reportedly instructed his wife Pepita before returning to Russia that “whatever you do, don’t bring the service into it,” as detailed in her segment of his published memoir, Adventures of a British Master Spy.
Each respective agent thus embarked on a nearly independent and undeniably dangerous mission in which each respective agent sacrificed his life for an arguably greater good: Bond to ensure the destruction of Safin’s “poison garden” island and Reilly to expose the Trust for its true nature.
What’d He Wear?
Perhaps unremarkable on its own, Reilly’s dinner suit in “The Trust” marks the sartorial culmination of his adventures across the first quarter of the 20th century depicted in Reilly: Ace of Spies, beginning with his period-specific full evening dress (white tie) in the first, fifth, and sixth episodes, followed by a notch-lapel dinner jacket, and finally this peak-lapel dinner jacket that was both contemporary to the episode’s 1924 setting while also marking the approximate time when the modern black tie dress code was standardized.
Reilly’s black wool dinner jacket has broad satin-faced peak lapels that elegantly roll to a single-button closure at the waist, positioned just to cover the black formal waistcoat he wears beneath it. The ventless jacket has roped sleeve-heads, jetted hip pockets, and a welted breast pocket that he dresses with a rakishly crimped white linen kerchief.
Reilly’s evening shirt may be the only part of the outfit more rooted in black tie’s origins than its modern execution, particularly the well-starched detachable wing collar that fastens to the shirt via metal studs on the front and back of the neck. The white cotton shirt has a reinforced marcella bib that offers a crisp presentation between the jacket lapels, detailed with three shining diamond studs. The sleeves are finished with single cuffs, which also fasten with cuff links like the double (French) cuffs more traditionally worn on black tie shirts, as the formality of single cuffs are more typically reserved for full evening dress.
Apropos the implications of the “black tie” dress code, Reilly wears a black silk bow tie in a classic butterfly (or “thistle”) shape.
Reilly wears a black formal waistcoat (vest) with a low-fastening V-shaped front, designed to almost completely disappear behind the buttoned jacket. Unlike some formal waistcoats—which are more vestigial and connect in the back merely with straps at the shoulders and waist—Reilly’s waistcoat has a full back, finished in a black satin to echo the lapels, tie, and trouser striping.
Reilly’s black formal trousers have the black silk side braiding requisite to black tie, likely held up with suspenders (braces) and finished with plain-hemmed bottoms that break over his black leather oxford shoes.
The video quality of my copy of Reilly: Ace of Spies prevents in-depth distinction of specific details, specifically on dark, low-contrasting garments, but we can tell Reilly layers outdoors in a black wool Chesterfield-style single-breasted overcoat, black leather gloves, and a white self-striped silk dress scarf.
Reilly wears a gold tank-style watch with a square white dial on a brown leather bracelet. Wristwatches were still an emerging fad among men in the early 1920s, especially those of the now middle-aged Reilly’s generation, but—given his passion for aviation—he likely adopted the practice from early military pilots who were among the first to regularly sport wrist-strapped timepieces.
Returning to his Long Island home after his meeting with Henry Ford, Reilly discovers the brutal Russian agent Monkewitz (Forbes Collins) on his tail. Riding high after the evident success of his meeting with Ford, Reilly sighs, stubs out his cigar, and asks his driver: “Where’s the Thompson?”
The driver reaches over onto the passenger seat and hands back to Reilly a Thompson M1921A submachine gun, identifiable as this period-correct earlier model by the lack of a Cutts compensator on the muzzle. Reilly racks the bolt, checks the distance between his car and Monkewitz, and signals to his driver: “Let’s get on with it.”
Reilly then swings himself out the left rear window, aiming the Thompson rearward and engaging Monkewitz—who also wields a Thompson—in a running gun battle reminiscent of the bootleggers from the same roaring decade. Alternately known as the “Chicago typewriter” for its involvement in the Jazz Age beer wars, this submachine gun revolutionized the firearms scene upon its development earlier in the decade, offering the powerful .45 ACP ammunition at a quick rate of fire from high capacity magazines like the 50-round drum affixed to Reilly’s Thompson. Though the “Tommy gun” had yet to be popularized by American gangsters by the fall of 1924, it had already found success in the hands of the Irish Republican Army earlier that decade.
Reilly safely returns home, confronting Eugenie with the knowledge that she had indeed double-crossed him. We next see Reilly’s Daimler parked in a remote clearing in the woods, with Eugenie walking through the early morning mist a few steps of Reilly. “Here,” he stops her, a few yards shy of Long Island Sound. She partially disrobes and walks out into the sound in just her sheer nightdress. Once she’s up to her waist in the water, Reilly raises his right hand and aims a small blued pistol that fires a single, fatal shot into the base of Eugenie’s spine.
We don’t see much of this compact pistol, though we discern that certainly smaller than the anachronistic Browning Hi-Power that Reilly had shown to Eugenie earlier in the hour and obviously not the Luger that had been stated to be his preferred sidearm in several episodes.
When I had first researched the firearms of the series for my contributions to IMFDB, I deduced that the pistol was likely the same small Beretta that “The Plugger” had handled in the previous episode (“After Moscow”) and which Reilly’s stalwart colleague Captain Hill would load in the next one (“The Last Journey”). If so, the pistol’s profile and more exposed barrel indicate the earmarks of a .25-caliber Beretta from the era, possibly a Beretta Model 1919 or Beretta 418 as Ian Fleming had written as the first issued sidearm of the literary James Bond.
What to Imbibe
To the tune of shelling and automatic gunfire outside their Berlin hotel, an aloof Sidney Reilly is joined by Pepita Bobadilla for post-prandial drinks in the lounge. A waiter brings Reilly a small cup of coffee and a snifter of cognac, then looks between Reilly and Pepita until the former acknowledges her presence and lowers his newspaper to address her.
Reilly: I imagine you’d like something to drink.
Pepita: (taking his newspaper) I’ll have a glass of milk.
Reilly: Anything in it?
Pepita: Brandy and a raw egg.
A bewildered Reilly nods the waiter away before setting out to better acquaint himself with his lovely companion. The scenes offers two alternatives for after-dinner drinks and, while Pepita’s choice is… interesting, I’ll have what Reilly’s having.
How to Get the Look
Writing of classic black tie style in Style and the Man, Alan Flusser explains that “the one combination that tends to look better balanced is the wing collar with the single-breasted peaked-lapel dinner jacket,” citing the harmonious “drama” between the sharp points tipping the ends of the jacket lapels and shirt collar. Such style as worn by Sam Neill’s Sidney Reilly in 1924 would look just as natty nearly a century later, presuming the wearer would be able to sport an authentically detachable wing collar rather than one of the mass-produced modern attached-collar alternatives.
- Black wool single-button dinner jacket with wide silk-faced peak lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, and ventless back
- White cotton evening shirt with detachable starched wing collar, stiff marcella bib with diamond studs, and single cuffs
- Black silk butterfly/thistle-shaped bow tie
- Black low-fastening full-backed formal waistcoat
- Black wool formal trousers with silk side braiding and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather oxford shoes
- Black wool single-breasted Chesterfield-style overcoat
- White self-striped silk dress scarf
- Black leather gloves
- Gold tank watch with square white dial on brown leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the series.
I also recommend Andrew Cook’s Ace of Spies: The True Story of Sidney Reilly and Richard B. Spence’s Trust No One: The Secret World of Sidney Reilly, both published in 2002 and seeking to work through the many myths to learn the truth about this secretive but significant agent of the early 20th century.
You tried to kill me.