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Sight and Sound (1998) - The Secret Agent




Matthews reviews The Secret Agent directed by Christopher Hampton and starring Bob Hoskins and Patricia Arquette.


London, the 1880s. Adolph Verloc lives with his wife Winnie and her mentally handicapped brother Stevie above a shabby stationer's shop. Verloc attends the meetings of the international anarchists which are held in the shop. In fact, he is a double agent, employed by both the Russian embassy and Scotland Yard to carry out acts of espionage. One day, he is summoned by the Russian diplomat Vladimir who, dissatisfied with Verloc's performance, gives him one last chance. He is to blow up the Greenwich Observatory. The anarchists will be blamed, thus causing the English authorities to suppress them violently.

Verloc obtains a petrol bomb and then persuades Stevie to help him plant the bomb. While carrying the device, Stevie trips over a root in Greenwich Park, sets off the detonator, and is blown up. Chief Inspector Heat of Scotland Yard suspects Verloc's involvement when he finds a charred address label from Stevie's overcoat. Verloc is interrogated by Heat's superior, the assistant commissioner, and confesses to the crime. On his return home, he discovers Heat waiting for him. The two men retire upstairs where an eavesdropping Winnie learns of Stevie's death. After Heat's departure, Verloc offers only lame excuses, whereupon Winnie murders him with a carving knife. With the help of the anarchist Ossipon, Winnie flees the country. Later, Ossipon reads a newspaper account of the mysterious suicide of a female passenger on a crossChannel ferry.

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