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Defense of the Realm (1985)

Defence of the Realm (original title)
After a newspaper reporter helps expose a Member of Parliament as a possible spy, he finds that there's much more to the story than that.


David Drury


Martin Stellman
Won 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 6 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Gabriel Byrne ... Nicholas 'Nick' Mullen
Greta Scacchi ... Nina Beckman
Denholm Elliott ... Vernon Bayliss
Ian Bannen ... Dennis Markham
Fulton Mackay ... Victor Kingsbrook
Bill Paterson ... Jack Macleod
David Calder ... Harry Champion
Frederick Treves ... Arnold Reece
Robbie Coltrane ... Leo McAskey
Annabel Leventon ... Trudy Markham
Graham Fletcher-Cook ... Micky Parker
Steven Woodcock Steven Woodcock ... Steven Dyce
Alexei Jawdokimov Alexei Jawdokimov ... Dietrich Kleist
Danny Webb ... Danny Royce (as Daniel Webb)
Prentis Hancock ... Frank Longman


A reporter Mullen 'stumbles' on a story linking a prominent Member of Parliament to a KGB agent. In fact it is also linked to a near Nuclear disaster involving a teenage runaway and an Americal USAF base. Has there been a Government cover-up,Mullen teams up with Vernon Bayliss, an old hack, and Nina Beckam the MP's assistant to find out the truth. Written by Matthew Stanfield <mattst@cogs.susx.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Just how far will a government go to hide the truth?




PG | See all certifications »

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Did You Know?


The film's title Defense of the Realm (1985) is derived from British legal legislation entitled The Defence of the Realm Act 1914, which is abbreviated as DORA. The law was passed by the British Parliament on 8th August 1914, which was four days after the beginning of World War I. See more »


While details are secret, it is generally assumed that a nuclear weapon has to be 'armed' before it would explode.

It would be absurd to have bombs in an aircraft that would wipe out the entire airbase if an aircraft crashed on landing. See more »


Ministry Man: You would agree, would you not, that certain things bearing on the defence of the realm are best left unsaid.
Nicholas 'Nick' Mullen: If you mean covered up, no, I wouldn't.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The research done for this film is shown by the acknowledgment at the end of the credits: "The Producers wish to thank the STAFF and MANAGEMENT of THE TIMES NEWSPAPERS FOR THEIR HELP." See more »


Music by Johann Pachelbel
Arranged by Dominic Muldowney
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User Reviews

A Realistic Yet Tense Thriller
20 September 2010 | by timdalton007See all my reviews

Beginning with the later years of the Cold War and extending to this very day, there has been this question about the enemies of a nation: are the ones within more dangerous then the external ones? This question has produced quite a few intriguing thrillers over the years and one such is Defence Of The Realm from 1986. This film looks at that question from the perspective of late Cold War UK politics and in turn presents a realistic yet tense thriller in the process.

The film has a fine cast of some of the UK's best actors and character actors of the time. Leading the cast is Gabriel Byrne as reporter Nick Mullen who finds himself writing one story and then follows a trail of breadcrumbs that leads him to discovering he has in fact been used. That trail of breadcrumbs belongs to Mullen's colleague and mentor of sorts Vernon Bayliss in a BAFTA winning performance from Denholm Elliott who makes the most of a small part. Helping Mullen is Greta Scacchi as Nina Beckman, the assistant to a Parliament member (played by Ian Bannen) caught up in the events. They are aided by Bill Paterson as Mullen immediate boss and opposed by David Calder as the newspaper's editor and Fulton Mackay as the owner of the newspaper Mullen works for. Also in a small role is an early appearance from Robbie Coltrane as a fellow reporter in a few scenes. The result is that the film is well anchored by a fine cast.

The film is helped out by the realism of the production values. This is especially true of the production design of Roger Murray-Leach who, working with what was likely a small budget, nonetheless created a whole plethora of sets ranging from newsrooms to a U.S Air Force base before taking us inside the secret halls of the government. Roger Deakins cinematography gives the film a sense of claustrophobia at all times even when the film ventures into wide open spaces. The result of this is amplified by the editing of Michael Bradsell and the score from Richard Harvey to create an almost continuous sense of menace throughout the film. All this comes together under the direction of David Drury to give the film a strong sense of realism.

The production values though take that realism from the script by Martin Stellman. The script looks at the question mentioned in this review's opening and does so through the lens of late Cold War Britain. At a time when Cold War tensions were increasing and a good deal of the public clamored for the government to do something about it, the film looks at how far a government and its national security apparatus might go to prevent a scandal that could bring about just that. What appears to be just another sex scandal involving a high ranking member of the British Parliament who has ties to the Defence establishment ( that is itself is highly reminiscent of the 1963 Profumo affair) might in fact be covering up something that seems completely unrelated: a police chase of two escaped teenage prisoners that accidentally crossed over onto a U.S Air Force base sometime before. The script takes Mullen and those he encounters on a journey into the secret workings of the British government. As it reaches it climax the film asks an important question: when does a government's ability to protect secrets cross the line into becoming something much more darker, threatening and even criminal? By combining a fine cast, production values and a fine script Defence Of The Realm is able to create a realistic yet tense thriller. While it may be set and more or less about late Cold War UK politics, the film asks questions that are relevant today. All of these elements come together to make Defence Of The Realm far more then just another thriller and ever watchable nearly twenty-five years on from its original release.

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Release Date:

21 November 1986 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Defense of the Realm See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$19,938, 23 November 1986

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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