28 user 13 critic

The Secret Agent (1996)

London of the late 19th century is a haven for political exiles of all sorts - refugees, partisans, anarchists. Verloc has made his living spying for the Russian government, an agent ... See full summary »
1 nomination. See more awards »
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Complete credited cast:
Ralph Nossek ...
Neville Phillips ...


London of the late 19th century is a haven for political exiles of all sorts - refugees, partisans, anarchists. Verloc has made his living spying for the Russian government, an agent provocateur of sorts, while simultaneously providing information to the London police, specifically Chief Inspector Heat. When the new Russian ambassador demands he prove his worth or lose his salary, Verloc sets off a tragic chain of events that involves his pretty young wife Winnie, her intellectually disabled brother Stevie, and a figure called the Professor, whose fascination with explosives and destruction makes him the person to call on when Verloc needs a bomb. Written by Gary Dickerson <slug@mail.utexas.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Thriller

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for some moments of violence | See all certifications »




Release Date:

8 November 1996 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent  »

Box Office


$7,000,000 (estimated)


$106,606 (USA) (31 December 1996)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Bob Hoskins was originally set to direct as well. See more »


[first title card]
Title Card: In the 1880's -unlike today- London was a haven for political refugees of all nationalities. They were kept under constant surveillance by their embassies as well as by Scotland Yard. This was fertile soil for every kind of conspiracy and betrayal.
See more »


Version of Folio: The Secret Agent (1957) See more »

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User Reviews

An interesting plot but an uneven delivery make for an average if watchable film
2 May 2005 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

London in the late 19th Century is a haven for all manner of political exiles. Verloc is an anarchist who has spent years in the employment of the Russian Government as a spy while also providing information to the London police. When Vladimir, the new Russian ambassador demands that Verloc start to prove his worth by bombing selected targets. Without a choice but to act, Verloc starts in motion a chain of events that will end with a bombing but hurt himself and his family in the process as it is only a matter of time before the police can find him – unless his "colleagues" can silence him first.

Although the plot is fairly enjoyable, it is the delivery of the film that somehow stops it being anything more than interesting. The simple tale shuns the political detail that could have come and centres on the emotional drama around Verloc and his family, but it doesn't totally succeed in doing this to the point where it is enough to make the film work. The construction is good enough; Verloc's position is quite tense and the consequences had the potential to be quite impacting but it somehow never becomes as interesting as the material suggests it would. Part of this is the delivery, that is a bit uneven and unsure of itself but the most obvious weakness is the acting.

Hoskins does as well as he can, but spread over the uneven material he comes over as a bit unsure of what he is meant to be doing. Regardless though, he is a big part of me sticking with the film as his character is effective. Of course, sharing his scenes with Arquette can only serve to make Hoskins look like a master of his trade in the same way that Arquette's make her look like some talentless waitress who was sleeping with the director (not that she was of course). Her accent is terrible of course, but this is only one failing in a performance that is wooden, emotionless and totally unconvincing. Support from Depardieu, Broadbent, Izzard, Bale and others adds colour and the impression of depth but none of them really work that well – Broadbent and Izzard in particular seem to add a slight comic touch that doesn't really fit. Williams has a small role but it is effective and memorable – just a shame that he seems to almost be in an entirely different film from the main narrative.

Overall this is an OK film that is interesting enough to be worth seeing but it is hard to shake the feeling that nobody was totally sure what to do with it and the end result shows an uneven hand on the tiller. Hoskins helps it but Arquette is pitiful and the famous support cannot make up for her being so bad in so central a role.

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