(director: Ken Loach; screenwriter: Jim Allen; cinematographer: Clive Tickner; editor: Jonathan Morris; music: Stewart Copeland; cast: Frances McDormand (Ingrid Jessner), Brad Dourif (Paul Sullivan), Brian Cox (Paul Kerrigan), Mai Zetterling (Moa), Bernard Bloch (Henri), John Benfield (Maxwell), Jim Norton (Brodie), Patrick Kavanaugh (Alec Nevin), Bernard Archard (Sir Robert Neil), Maurice Roeves (Harris), Michelle Fairley (Teresa Doyle); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Eric Fellner; MGM/Hemdale Film Corporation; 1990-UK)
“Moving fictionalized political thriller that’s based on fact.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The populist maker of social realist dramas favoring the working-class, Brit filmmaker Ken Loach (“Kes”/”Bread and Roses”), directs in a documentary-style this well-crafted, excellently acted and moving fictionalized political thriller that’s based on fact. It’s scripted by Jim Allen, and is set in the early ’80s in a Northern Ireland living with an unhealthy police presence and under terrorists attacks from the IRA. It offers a severe reprimand of Britain’s uneven policy in Northern Ireland and points to their government as the villains, but in fairness omits showing the atrocities of the terrorist IRA followers.
Hidden Agenda was inspired by the investigation into the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s ruthless “shoot to kill” policy by which the British security forces are allowed to fire at suspected I.R.A. terrorists on sight in Northern Ireland.
The film begins in 1981 by a quote from the Conservative Party Prime Mininster, Margaret Thatcher, who insists that Northern Ireland is part of Britain. It ends with one from a former British intelligence agent, stating, “There are two laws running this country: one for the security forces and the other for the rest of us.” Which is viewed as the Hidden Agenda.
Paul Sullivan (Brad Dourif) and Ingrid Jessner (Frances McDormand) are American attorneys serving on a human rights group working to monitor cases of prisoner mistreatment in war-torn Belfast. In Belfast, the IRA driver and his passenger Paul are gunned-down in a car ambush on an isolated road by those who don’t want Paul to reveal the tape he was given that the Labor Party was unfairly attacked by the Conservative Party that brought about the election of Thatcher. When the ambush is covered-up by the local authorities (claiming the car ran through an ordinary checkpoint) and the tape is missing, Britain sends in its top investigator, Inspector Paul Kerrigan (Brian Cox), to co-investigate what really happened with Sullivan’s girlfriend, Ingrid.
The investigation reveals that the local authorities covered-up the crime, and that the mysterious tape that was made by a Captain Harris (Maurice Roeves), an ex-army intelligence officer, now in hiding and in possession of the original tape, who was voicing his opposition to his government’s unfair policy. By the film’s end he will pay the ultimate price for doing the right thing, as he passes the tape onto Ingrid.
Meanwhile Inspector Kerrigan is stymied in his pursuit of the cover-up with a threat of committing career suicide by the oily Brit government smoothies, Alec Nevin (Patrick Kavanaugh) and Sir Robert Neil (Bernard Archard), if he doesn’t play ball with them and accept their compromise solution (they’ll let him prosecute the gunmen in the car incident if he stops there in his investigation).
The film takes the real scandal head on and allows itself to voice what might have gone on among all the key players in this ugly episode in English history.
It was gripping, suspenseful and informative, without a need to be flashy or preachy. It left me feeling exhilarated, just like when I saw Costa Gavras’s Z (1969).
The film won in 1990 the Special Jury Prize at Cannes.
REVIEWED ON 5/26/2020 GRADE: A