Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Defence of the Realm - 1986 film review

I missed Defence of the Realm on its original release, just over 30 years ago, and I've only just caught up with it. The film is a conspiracy thriller, well-written and acted, with a truly excellent cast. As I've mentioned before, I'm very interested in the art of structuring a thriller - the sort of thing that Lee Child does with apparently effortless ease - and the narrative here is enticingly contrived.

The action begins with two young tearaways, about whom we know nothing, being pursued in their (perhaps stolen) car. It seems they are about to be apprehended when the action switches to a classic newspaper "sting". A journalist is tipped off that a leading Labour MP is to be found in compromising circumstances rather reminiscent of the Profumo Scandal. The MP (played by Ian Bannen) resigns, and that seems to be that.

But the focus then switches to a team of investigative journalists. Hard-drinking Denholm Elliott plays Bayliss, an old chum of the MP; also working on the story is Mullen (Gabriel Byrne) who suspects that there's something fishy about the MP's exposure. His suspicions become more acute when Bayliss is found dead. Is it possible that he has been silenced? If so, by whom, and why?

Although the conspiracy deals with issues current in the mid-80s, this film is much less dated than one might expect. This is because the story, even in its more routine phases, benefits from very convincing performances, especially from everyone involved at the paper - including Fulton McKay, Frederick Treves, and Bill Paterson. Greta Scacchi also plays a key part in the unravelling of the mystery, and the dramatic conclusion. A fast-moving thriller, not exactly original, but well done.

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