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A spy among friends/An Englishman Abroad

The title A Spy Among Friends gives it away.

The theme of this ITV drama is that the escape of Kim Philby, the MI5 counter operation chief working for the KGB, was facilitated by his chum Nick Elliott and all part of a public school fellowship.

The gritty Anna Maxwell Martin, a Northeasterner not from public school with a black doctor husband, is tasked with interrogating Elliott – making no secret of how unimpressed she is by the all male cosy public school world of British espionage.

Damien Lewis delivers a fine performance  as Elliot and Guy Pierce as Philby but it’s pedestrian drama.

I was concerned how much I would enjoy An Englishman Abroad the second time round.

It could not date as the Moscow meeting between the dissolute spy and Coral Browne playing Queen Gertrude in a performance in Moscow of Hamlet was already in the past.

The essence of the film is the contrast between the drab Moscow that Burgess now is forced to inhabit and his previous St James world of clubs and outfitters.

Coral Browne is tasked in measuring up Burgess for a new suit and boots.

Both his tailor and shoe maker who still has his last are happy to do this but one outfitter refuses to supply silk pyjamas.

Alan Bates delivers a brilliant performance as the jaunty old Etonian.

There is an agenda here too.

In interview Bennett argued that the destruction of city centres by Mrs Thatcher was as treasonable as MacLean betraying his country.

I have never heard of this accusation but surely the playwright can see the difference between Mrs Thatcher, who exposed Sir Anthony Blunt who recruited and befriended Maclean,  and one of the ‘ Famous Five’ Cambridge spies whose disloyalty cost the lives of many agents who were loyal?

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About Bernadette Angell

After cutting her journalistic teeth in Boston USA, Bernadette met and married an Englishman, whom she followed back to London. Two decades and three children later, they divorced. She now occupies herself as a freelance writer (credits include television soaps and radio plays) and occasional amateur gardener. More Posts