(director/writer: Christopher Hampton; screenwriter: from a Joseph Conrad novel; cinematographer: Denis Lenoir; editor: George Akers; music: Philip Glass; cast: Bob Hoskins (Adolph Verloc), Patricia Arquette (Winnie Verloc), Gérard Depardieu (Ossipon), Jim Broadbent (Chief Inspector Heat), Robin Williams (The Professor), Christian Bale (Stevie), Eddie Izzard (Vladimir), Roger Hammond (Mr. Michaelis), Elizabeth Spriggs (Winnie’s Mother), Peter Vaughan (The Driver), Julian Wadham (The Assistant Commissioner); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Joyce Herlihy/Norma Heyman/Bob Hoskins; Fox Home Videos; 1996-UK)

“Drab and inept version of the great 1907 novel by Joseph Conrad on terrorism.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Drab and inept version of the great 1907 novel by Joseph Conrad on terrorism, superbly filmed before by Hitchcock in his minor work Sabotage (1936). It was Conrad’s only novel set in London. Writer-director Christopher Hampton (“Carrington”/”Imagining Argentina”) keeps the characters faithful to the book, but altogether misses its spirit.

Set in 1886, in the Soho district, during the Victorian era. Adolph Verloc (Bob Hoskins) is a ‘corpulent anarchist’ double agent (serving both the Russian embassy and Scotland Yard) who is coerced by his contact in the Russian embassy, spymaster Vladimir (Eddie Izzard), to blow up the Greenwich Observatory or else be taken off the payroll after 11 years service. The Russians wish to stir up the asylum seeking foreigners in England to rebel and know that any terrorist act will be most likely blamed on the foreign anarchists.

The seedy double agent Verloc meets with an anarchist group to spy on them and is the Soho owner of a porn bookshop, who is married to unsuspecting pretty cockney Winnie (Patricia Arquette) and generously takes in her retarded brother Stevie (Christian Bale). She married him because he’s kind to the feeble-minded Stevie and can afford to take care of him, as she loves her brother more than any one else in the world.

The cowardly Verloc gets Stevie, who would do anything in the world for Verloc, to carry the bomb through the park to the observatory, but the operation gets botched when the awkward Stevie trips and the device explodes–killing himself and leading to serious repercussions for the agent provocateur and his innocent wife.

Robin Williams has a good turn as the chilling and sinister Professor, a nihilistic bomb supplier; Jim Broadbent is suitable as the police chief investigator; Gérard Depardieu is watchable as the false-hearted anarchist; Hoskins gives a brilliant performance as the unglamorous spy; and the American Arquette almost gets by as a cockney. But the talented cast is wasted in such a gloomy and leaden film.