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DEFENSE OF THE REALM (director: David Drury; screenwriter: Martin Stellman; cinematographer: Roger Deakins; editor: Michael Bradsell; music: Richard Harvey; cast: Gabriel Byrne (Nick Mullen), Denholm Elliott (Vernon Bayliss ), Ian Bannen ( Dennis Markham), Greta Scacchi (Nina Beckman), Fulton MacKay(Victor Kingsbrook), Bill Paterson (Jack MacLeod), Frederick Treves(Reece), Annabel Leventon(Trudy Markham); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Robin Douet/Lynda Myles; Nelson Entertainment; 1986-UK)

“Mostly pleasing old-fashioned political thriller.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

TV documentary filmmaker David Drury (“Forever Young”/”Split Decisions”)directs this fast-paced mostly pleasing old-fashioned political thriller, that builds in tension as an aggressive obsessed investigative journalist tracks down a conspiracy story over nuclear weapons and a cover-up by the British and American governments.BBC-TV’s Martin Stellman hands in an efficient but at times muddled screenplay.

Spirited young apolitical investigative journalist Nick Mullen (Gabriel Byrne) gets burned by helping write a piece with poisonous info from an anonymous tipster that forces respected MP Dennis Markham (Ian Bannen) to resign over a sex scandal, as he was photographed leaving the home of a woman seen in the company of Major Kleist–supposedly a KGB agent from East Germany. This incident happens after a near crash of a nuclear bomber on a top-secret and highly secure American Air Force base in the countryside of Eastern England, and with the influential MP Markham set to investigate the incident of two boys running away after getting onto the base by breaching security and one is arrested and the other dies in a hit-and-run incident. Nick’s middle-aged veteran colleagueon the newspaper Vernon Bayliss (Denholm Elliott) doesn’t believe his old pal Markham could be a traitor, in fact he believes he was framed. While Vernon’s collecting evidence to show his old pal from their idealistic days in the Communist party is no traitor, his apartment is ransacked and he dies under mysterious circumstances.

Nick realizes there’s something going on here more than meets the eye, and elicits the help of Markham’s pretty loyal secretary Nina Beckman (Greta Scacchi). Byuncovering clippings and photos from the newspaper’s morgue and following up leads with leg work, the journalist discovers the truth. But his story is spiked by his newspaper bosses and when he fails to heed the advice of government agents to be a patriot and for security reasons forget what he knows, he finds that both the lives of Nina and himself are in danger.

Drury, in a rather cynical way, paints both the Brit and American governments with a black eye by suggesting they are capable of harming their own citizens over nuclear activity in Britain. The moral dilemma political pic reaches out to both the government and the media, as it asks what are their responsibilities to come clean with the public. It’s a good question to ask, as it seems to always be coming up for every generation and seemingly is always answered in a different way.

Good performances by stars Byrne and Elliott, a satisfactory thinking man’s plot line, superb location shots and incisive direction keep this muckraking political thriller stylish, atmospheric and engrossing.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”