Recently I have viewed three films, two for the first time and one an old favourite which cover the dramatic change that taken place in government intelligence with the digital era- Allied (WWII), the Ipcress File (the Cold War) and Snowdon, together with one documentary which covers the escape of Snowden from Hong Kong to Russia.
The first film Allied is a curious concoction set in World War II in Casablanca and London. Casablanca is the focus of my favourite film of all time, a French city in North Africa, occupied by the Nazis, a love triangle in which freedom and opposition to tyranny triumphs over individual feelings and relationships (our relationship not worth a hill of beans).
Allied begins in 1942 when a highly trained Canadian (presumably French speaking) operative (Brad Pitt) is sent to Casablanca to assassinate the visiting German Ambassador with the help of a trained French resistance worker who had escaped to the city after the rest of the group she led in Paris had been compromised and killed. The two pose as husband and wife and fall in love and against the odds the plan to assassinate not only works but they escape. Whereas the film Casablanca emotionally engages on very viewing with its great actors and script (Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henried, Claude Raines, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lore, Conrad Veidt, Dooley Wilson - you must remember this - Play it again Sam- and others: such as the night club singer, the bar tender, the young couple) credible storyline and script) what happens in Allied by comparison appears absurd. The couple then make their home in London with the wife (Marion Collard) settling down to pregnancy and motherhood homemaking while her husband (a trained pilot former squadron type leader) appears to be desk bound at Special Operations Headquarters until summoned to be told that his wife is an imposter, a German Spy as the Paris resistance worker did not survive.
He is told to carry on as normal while confirmation is established in which instance he will kill her. The notion that he would be asked to do this is also absurd. It is believed she is part of a cell and passes on information she gains from what he mentions and from papers he brings home with him. A trap is set and he is told to nothing but he persuades someone at the air base to make a contact on a mission to the resistance in France to get confirmation that his wife is who she says she is. The young man in question loses his life which is rightly placed at the door of Mr Pitt whose suspicions that his wife is in fact part of a German spy network is such that he then goes to France where unable to substantiate the death he does gain information which enables him to test his wife. A test which she fails but such is his love for her and their child that he deals with the spy network and then plans for them to escape by air, having been warned that if he fails to execute his wife he will be treated as a traitor and hanged.
His wife admits she was placed as an agent in Casablanca posing as the dead resistance worker but went along with the assassination plan rather than expose him in advance because of falling in love. She had hoped to disappear through marriage but she had been tracked to London and blackmailed. When the escape plan is foiled she commits suicide rather than see their daughter become parentless. Her action saves her husband and the audience is left with the feeling that her treachery and his complicity can be left unpunished, the record showing that he carried out the execution. The film closes with a scene of daughter, now a young woman with her father with the implication that he devoted himself to her care and remained unmarried another implausibility. It is entertainment and nothing more.
The world of spying, its treachery, double dealing and expendability of agents in the national interest is well documented on film book and documentary. At present among the books being read is the biography of Le Carre. A more realistic presentation of the Spy can be experienced through the works of Le Carre and I have his books, Smiley’s People (and DVD), The Honourable Schoolboy, Tinker Tailor. Solder. Spy (and DVD), The Russia House and DVD, The Mission Song and the Constant Gardener (and DVD) together with the DVD of the series, the Perfect Spy together with the BBC radio series which also includes The Secret Pilgrim. Call for Dead, the looking Glass War, a Murder of Quality, the DVD of the Deadly Affair and the most haunting of them all The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with a memorable performance on screen by Richard Burton (have the DVD).