Saturday, August 16, 2014

Covert Inspiration: Sly Instances of Kim Philby On Film

Ben Macintyre, author of A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, offers a look at the films based on Kim Philby at Word & Film.

Kim Philby, the most notorious and successful spy of modern times, has inspired myriad films for cinema and television. Some are broadly factual, others factual, and most others somewhere in between - which is appropriate, since the gray area between truth and untruth, reality and deception, is where Philby spent his entire life.

Philby's long and ongoing role in film is easy to explain, for his is the essential spy story: the man who appears, on the outside, to be the perfect English gentleman, but on the inside is someone else, playing for the other side, smiling and betraying. The moral uncertainty here is irresistible to dramatists, going all the way back to Shakespeare, who noted man's ability to "smile and smile and be a villain." Philby's very charm was his armor.

The Philby story, and its numerous spin-offs, enables filmmakers to ask the essential questions: Who do you trust? What is friendship? Is it possible to love your betrayer?

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  1. I wonder . . . what is the shelf-life for interest in Philby? The under 40-year-old crowd and future generations will not likely care very much. The Cold War is becoming ancient (irrelevant?) history to too many people.

  2. RT,

    I don't agree.

    Although I think he was a murderer and a bastard - a "Rotter," as the Brits called him - Philby is a major Cold War figure, and any future student of history and/or student of espionage will no doubt remain interested in Philby.

    Of course, there are also other spies who still interest us, such as Richard Sorge and Sidney Reilly.

    There are even several popular books out about America's first spymaster, General George Washington.

    You may not find the history of espionage compelling, but based on the sales of books, films and TV programs, millions of us still do.

    I don't think that is likely to change.