Rupert Everett and Cary Elwes and Colin Firth really were just about too beautiful to be believed back in ’84. These dewy-eyed preternaturally perfect boys lolling about seductively, batting their lush lashes while indolently arranging themselves on couches, sipping champers, drawling in upper class accents. So many handsome young men making cow eyes at each other, kind of makes you wonder how the British upper classes managed to reproduce with (ahem) women.
If they did. In “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, John le Carre’s fictionalized retelling of the Cambridge spy ring, le Carre has the old Russia hand Connie Sachs muse about all of those privileged scions of the upper crust, boys who went through Eton and Cambridge, raised to rule an empire. And then the empire was gone, and what now? Kim Philby was one of those; Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt….why did so many of the best and brightest become traitors?
If we go by “Another Country”, it’s maybe because the English public school system produced so many closeted embittered men, fed up with the hypocrisy of a system in which the richest and most useless sent their sons to live in a posh concentration camp atmosphere ruled by incompetents, sadists and predators. And then required the survivors remain silent afterwards. Maybe so. The current leadership of Britain doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence about the quality of the public school system’s products. Perhaps the mechanics of leading a hidden life in 1930’s homophobic England made Burgess practiced at concealing his allegiances in other matters. Or maybe we (and “Another Country”) are reading too much into this part of Burgess’ life. As le Carre put it about another agent, some men love being traitors. Always being the smartest, most clever, always knowing that one thing no one else in room suspects.
“Another Country” looks great, and the actors (if seeming kind of old to be in prep school) are a testament to the quality of Britain’s acting classes. Those English do make consistently good acting talent. For a shortish movie, the pacing is as languid as Everett’s elegant manners and the drama understated to the point that this viewer would’ve liked a car chase or explosion to lighten up the proceedings.
But, it’s hard to be too critical about a movie that actually does try to deal with some big issues and does that in a cinematic way. Set dressing, clothes, music, it’s all quality stuff. Makes “Downton Abbey” look cheap and tawdry. Whether “Another Country” is anything biographical about Guy Burgess, I’ve no idea. It is kind of ironic that he spied for Stalin’s USSR, a nation that, had he been a gay Russian rather than a treasonous Brit, have shipped him off to the Gulag or worse. But the heart wants what it wants, doesn’t it? In “Another Country”, our protagonist wants Cary Elwes and Colin Firth, Colin Firth wants a communist utopia, and Stalin wants to plant agents in the heart of British Intelligence.
If you’re looking for anything historical about the Cambridge spies, “Another Country” isn’t that. Maybe an origin story, a prequel to the main event. But, nicely acted by guys who might have asked, like Derek Zoolander did, “if there is more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?”