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A young engineer is sent to post-WWII Berlin to help the Americans in spying on the Russians. In a time and place where discretion is still a man's best friend, he falls in love with a mysterious woman who will take him on the dark side of evil. Written by
Steve Richer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I don't know why several people have criticised this film so severely. It does not have the fast pace of a nail-biting thriller, but then it is not meant to be one. Despite the fact that the setting and activities of the characters are concerned with espionage in postwar Berlin, this is not an espionage story but a tragic love story about people whose lives are ruined by what they do and have done. The screenplay is by Ian McEwan, based upon his own novel. These days he is best known for writing the novel ATONEMENT, filmed in 2007. The director was John Schlesinger, near the end of his career, for he would only make four more films (of his total of 28) after this. Sometimes Schlesinger could go really wrong, as in THE DAY OF THE LOCUST (1975), which I found unwatchable. But many of his films are classics, and he was an immensely gifted director. It was obvious as long ago as 1962 that Schlesinger was going to be a major director, and he did become one of Britain's finest. Campbell Scott is perfectly cast as Leonard, a shy young Englishman who lives with his mother, has never had a girlfriend, and works for the G.P.O. For those too young to remember, the GPO (General Post Office) had the monopoly in the past of all postal deliveries and telephone services in Britain. In the sixties you had to wait between six weeks and three months for the GPO to connect a new telephone if you moved house. They were so notoriously lazy, complacent, and incompetent, that everyone was thrilled when competition was introduced to telephony and British Telecom and Mercury emerged as commercial rivals. But that is enough about the history of telephony in Britain. The mail is today divided into Royal Mail (which is about to be privatised) and Parcel Force (which delivers, or in many cases fails to deliver, parcels.) But that is enough also about postal services in Britain. Scott is one of the few really bright people at the GPO, and he is indeed so clever that he is sent off to Berlin and seconded to the Yanks on a top secret surveillance project called 'Gold'. This is based upon real events. The Americans really did dig a tunnel 100 yards into the Soviet zone of Berlin and tap the East German and Soviet phone lines during the Cold War. Scott plays the bright boy who actually does the tapping. The story is rather unconvincing here, for surely the Americans had their own such people, and also, surely a young nerd from the GPO was not the best that the Brits could supply? Well, never mind, it is a novel and a film, not a history book (though some history books are even 'less true; than novels, aren't they? I leave aside the question as to whether truth is absolute and so there is no such thing as being 'less true'.) Now the film goes astray at this point, because the man in charge of the American operation is a spook played by Anthony Hopkins. I believe he gives a magnificent and subtle performance, but his American accent is simply not good enough, and that has justly irritated many people. Hopkins is also an acquired taste in general. But the history of this production may explain Hopkins being cast in this lead role, for he had at least some attraction to investors, though whether he was 'fully bankable' in 1993 I cannot say. This film was produced by a very charming woman named Norma Hayman. But three weeks before shooting, her distributors pulled the rug out from under her. I don't know how she saved the film, but in the process it was entirely recast. I had a very uncomfortable experience about twenty years ago when I was with a close friend who was an executive producer who raised money for films. He got a call from Norma Hayman asking whether she could come to his home and see him urgently. He did not like being disturbed at home, and was very grumpy about it, and he also smelled a whiff of desperation in the air, which destroys confidence. So she arrived and they closeted themselves in a room for ages, but when they emerged, my friend was treating her very badly, indeed with contempt, which greatly shocked me, as I had never seen him behave like that. She was crestfallen. I needed to go and so she and I shared a cab into the centre of town (London). It was a sad and gloomy experience, she talked little, and I thought it best to leave her to her unhappy thoughts rather than to irritate her with chatting. As this film was made about that time, I wonder if this was the film she was trying to save on that day. Well, in the story Scott falls in love with the irresistibly alluring Isabella Rossellini, who plays a mysterious German woman, and she introduces him to the carnal side of life. But he then discovers she is married to a drunken brute named Otto, who beats her up and is refusing to sign her divorce papers. And lots of things begin to go seriously wrong. Scott wants to marry Rossellini, and who wouldn't, but then a terrible, bloody event takes place, just the sort of perverse thing that Ian McEwan seems to like inflicting on his readers and viewers, though Schlesinger resists any temptation to 'do a Tarantino' with that material, and is as discreet as it is possible to be about something so awful. I think if the story were a bit less extreme in that particular, people would have liked the film more. However, the film is otherwise very good in my opinion, very sad and moving. It has an intriguing, very emotional ending which I am not permitted by IMDb reviewing rules to reveal.
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