“A Spy Among Friends”: when the betrayal of the motherland fades into the background

Spies and scouts finally cease to be heroes that one would like to be like. Stirlitz, Johann Weiss (“Shield and Sword”) – brave men with faces impenetrable to the enemy, remain in the distant past.

We live in a time when even James Bond strives to cry, go to rest, or at least die heroically as soon as possible. It is perhaps impossible to imagine Sean Connery in such a role: not a single warhead would dare to fall into this eternal sardonic grin. Today’s spies began, it seems, with Thomas Alfredson’s Spy Get Out, a largely revisionist film adaptation of John le Carré’s famous novel. Tired, exhausted, experiencing a continuous identity crisis and, as a result, failures (and even tragedies) in their personal lives – these are the British spies performed by antagonists Gary Oldman and Colin Firth.

It is this picture that comes to mind, since not only modern characters, but also the heroes of the past are subject to complication and deheroization. Something similar is happening in the latest six-episode British series, A Spy Among Friends, based on the best-selling book by Ben McIntyre. The book and the series are dedicated to an important plot in the history of intelligence – the betrayal and flight to the Soviet Union of MI-5 agent Kim Philby (in the series he is played by Guy Pearce). It is noteworthy, by the way, that in Western cinema Philby receives far from the first on-screen incarnation, but in Soviet and Russian cinema his activities are almost not reflected in any way.

A Spy Among Friends begins with an interrogation of Nicholas Elliott (Damien Lewis), an MI6 agent and Philby’s closest friend, who is also the last person to see him before his escape. The meeting was no coincidence: Elliott was sent by management to finally reveal the double agent. As a result, he spent four days with Philby, received an eight-page confession from him – and let him go in peace. Interrogator Lily Thomas (Anna Maxwell Martin) of MI5 is tasked with finding out under what conditions Nicholas released Kim. To do this, they have to remember, day after day, the last 23 years of Elliott’s life, for whom the conversation gets more painful as he simultaneously lost a friend and suffered a professional failure.

Alfredson’s film comes to mind when watching regularly. The characters live and work in dusty offices, and the colors of Spy Among Friends look cold and somewhat faded. Actually espionage work is the weakest point of the series, and the point here is not at all the lack of complimentary to the Soviet special services. On the one hand, the action is overloaded with secret information – encryption, passwords, safe houses, double agents, rapid movement around the planet (in fact, the roles of Beirut, Moscow and Berlin were played by the same Bucharest). On the other hand, without a romantic veil, all this looks like a not very exciting and, moreover, exhaustingly confusing routine.

The action is illuminated in compact scenes devoted to interrogations (this is largely the merit of the fantastic Martin), as well as in those episodes where the duet of Pierce and Lewis becomes central. It seems that they even have a slightly different, warmer light, a different dynamics. Philby and Elliott mixed (thanks to editing) live very different episodes of their lives, but live their friends. And in the end, the whole series revolves not so much around the story of the betrayal of the motherland, but around a very personal drama. Or rather, even around a very personal and long conversation between two rapidly getting drunk men in a stuffy Beirut apartment. Not the fact that this is the best image on the screen of the person who transmitted to the Union data on the plans of the Germans on the Kursk Bulge, but probably the most touching.

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