Home Pge, Site Index, Search, Help

'Defense of the Realm' (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 20, 1987

THE POLS meet the press in Britain's "Defense of the Realm," a respectable, if muddled, suspense story involving journalistic freedom and national security. This sedate, cerebral thriller investigates our muckraking hero's motives just as thoroughly as the hero investigates the leads in an evermore improbable political scandal. (Nothing in comparison to Iran-Amok, mind you, but a bad business nonetheless.)

Gabriel Bryne plays rumpled news hunk Nick Mullen, a cross between Mel Gibson and the McLaughlin Group, the type of news hound we news hens would like to see more of. The aggressive youngish journalist gets his first scoop when an anonymous tip leads to damning evidence against prominent Member of Parliament Dennis Markham (Ian Bannen). At first, it looks like a routine British sex scandal, the kind of Piccadilly peccadillo that Fleet Street journalists thrive on. Markham is caught in the love nest with an Eastern Bloc leader's mistress and later is forced to resign when Mullen links him more closely with the KGB.

The star reporter gets his first front-page byline, and then has second thoughts when a veteran reporter (Denholm Elliott) argues that Markham has been framed. Mullen becomes suspicious when the older reporter is found dead and his flat ransacked. Convinced of a connection between the death and Markham's resignation, Mullen sifts the evidence -- mostly clippings and photos from the newpaper's morgue. The newspaperman follows the paper footprints to track the reporter's alleged killers, in hopes of tying them to the Markham story.

It's a mildly intriguing mystery, a lightweight Le Carre, with its double agents and diabolical, doublespeak bureaucrats. Bad guys in good suits and shadows in trenchcoats. But the patchwork solution isn't as satisfying as the fact-finding process -- which includes lots of our hero's high-tone emoting over Xeroxes.

Aside from Elliott (an Oscar nominee for "A Room with a View") and Bannen (who played Jim Prideaux in TV's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"), the movie costars gorgeous Greta Scacchi of "Heat and Dust" as the M.P.'s loyal secretary. Her performance, like those of her fellows, is sure and skilled and swiftly done. The characters come and go like clues, expedient to the story.

BBC-TV's Martin Stellman wrote the serviceable screenplay, directed by TV documentary-maker David Drury. He uses technology for exposition -- TV news bites, a phone-tap recording, radio broadcasts and so on. Unfortunately Drury drowns the veddy British dialogue in an excess of ambient sound.

Drury's past experience does give "Defense" an on-the-spot intimacy. The camera intrudes, elbows and pushes like a Mike Wallace expose'. It's that arrogance, along with Bryne's tweedy sex appeal and journalistic je ne sais quoi, that keeps the thriller percolating. DEFENSE OF THE REALM (PG) -- At the West End 1-4.

Copyright The Washington Post

Back to the top

Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help