Saturday, 29 January 2011

Two great productions of the BBC around the Cambridge Spies ... First , "A question of attribution"


UK, 1991, 90 minutes, Colour.
James Fox, David Calder, Geoffrey Palmer, Prunella Scales, Jason Flemyng.
Directed by John Schlesinger.

A Question of Attribution is a second British spy drama, a collaboration between John Schlesinger and writer Alan Bennett who had previously made An Englishman Abroad, with Alan Bates and Coral Brown, a picture of Guy Burgess in Moscow.

This film is a portrait of Sir Anthony Blunt, his relationship with MI5, his role as the curator of the Queen's pictures - and it includes a fascinating sequence where Sir Anthony Blunt meets the Queen and they have a discussion about pictures and about forgeries and fakes.

The film is brief, is elegantly written by Bennett and provides an insight into the personality of Sir Anthony Blunt and his final emergence as the fourth man amongst the British spies in contact with Moscow. He is a man of the Establishment, a man lacking in moral stance, pragmatic but able to move in English society because of his cultural background and status. James Fox gives an excellent performance as Blunt. David Calder is also excellent as the investigator Chubb, a complete contrast in style and background from Blunt. However, in the interrogations, which are done in a very gentlemanly fashion, Chubb begins to learn a great deal about art.

Bennett uses a portrait by Titian, alleged to be by Titian, as the central core of the study of the British spy. Blunt is involved in the cleaning of the picture, which gradually reveals that there are four personalities in the picture and discussions as to whether the portraits are forgeries or not. The parallel between the forged painting and the cultivated spy are elaborated with interesting detail (including the discussion with the Queen).

Prunella Scales appears to great effect as the Queen in the discussion with Blunt.

The film was made in the early '90s after the break-up of the Soviet Union, whereas An Englishman Abroad was made earlier. However, they form companion pieces highlighting the nature of British attitudes towards espionage and also towards Russia and the changing of the Soviet Union and the Cold War in the early '90s.

Sir Anthony Blunt ( James Fox) goes to Buckingham Palace to study a painting by Titian ...

Suddenly, a corgi appears ...

Realising that the Queen is coming ... one of the assistants runs in panic ... and hides

Without being aware of what is going on, Sir Anthony Blunt continues developing his thoughts about the painting

The Queen enters the room

Without realising that The Queen is present and watching the situation, Sir Anthony Blunt demands impatiently to his "assistent", that is at the present moment hiding under the coach, his spyglass ...

Sir Anthony Blunt ... comes to the Awesome discovery that he actually is talking with the Queen ...

The queen is able to see cleary that someone is hiding under the coach ... but she remains impassible ... and imperturbable ... even if her corgi doesn't

The culminating moment of tension ... of "attribution" ....concerning the character of Sir Anthony Blunt ... as implicitelly "expressed" by the Queen ... is he a fake ? ... in other words a traitor ?

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