Based on a true story and taking place in 1951, the 1985 film, Blunt: The Fourth Man, tells the story of Anthony Blunt (played by Ian Richardson).
A graduate of Cambridge, Anthony Blunt appears to be a proud member of the British establishment. He’s upper class with impeccable manners. He’s the King’s art surveyor, which he says makes him literally a member of the Royal Family. He belongs to all the right clubs and he expresses all of the right opinions and he has all of the right friends.
However, Anthony Blunt leads a secret life. First off, he’s gay at a time when that was still illegal in the United Kingdom. Unlike his flamboyant lover, Guy Burgess (Anthony Hopkins), Blunt is discreet and always keeping an eye out for the vice cops. Blunt is also a socialist and has been one since his days at Cambridge. However, he’s not just a socialist. He’s also spying for the Russians. It’s not that Anthony thinks much of Russia as much as it’s just that he thinks even less of the U.S. and the U.K. He feels that the U.S. is pushing the world towards nuclear war. When his driver says that the UK needs a Joe McCarthy of their own, Blunt can barely hide his distaste.
Even though it was Guy who originally recruited Anthony to spy for the Russians, Anthony now appears to be in charge of the so-called Cambridge Spy Ring. He’s the one who regularly meets with the group’s Russian contact and he’s also the one who is put in charge of arranging for one of the spies to flee the UK. The Russians don’t seem to have much faith in Guy Burgess, largely because Guy is an alcoholic and a drug addict. (Upon returning to London from America, Guy declares that he’s no longer drinks whiskey and that he’s given up Benzedrine. He then proceeds to get very drunk.) In fact, the only person who seems to really care about Guy is Anthony but how much does Guy actually care about Anthony?
Almost everyone in Blunt, the Fourth Man is either a spy or a former spy. And yet, we really don’t see anyone doing much spying. Guy has a closet that’s full of undeveloped film, official files, and a picture of Lenin and that’s about it. Throughout the film, Guy brags about how powerful he and his fellow spies are but we’re left to wonder whether Guy’s telling the truth or if he’s just drunk. For his part, Anthony is more concerned with getting caught and losing his place in society. He knows that one member of the group is on the verge of getting unmasked and has made arrangements for him to escape to Russia while visiting France. The problem is that the plan involves Guy and Anthony is not sure if he can trust Guy to play his part. If Guy’s willing to betray his country, why not his friends and lover?
For the most part, the entire film is Anthony and Guy having cryptic discussion with themselves and with others. There’s a threatening subtext to almost every conversation in this film. There’s also a pervasive atmosphere of regret. Anthony, Guy, and their friends are no longer the idealists that they were back in Cambridge. They’re now middle-aged men who know that they’ve devoted their lives to a lost cause. Each deals with it in their own way. Guy drinks. Anthony insists that his spying has less to do with betraying a country and more with staying loyal to his friends. What’s perhaps most interesting is that almost all of these upper class socialists are most worried about losing their place in society.
This is a very talky film. Fortunately, it stars two great talkers, Ian Richardson and Anthony Hopkins. The two of them play off each other very well and create two fascinating, if not necessarily likable, characters. Admittedly, there are a few scenes where Hopkins comes dangerous close to going a bit overboard with Guy’s drunken ramblings but Ian Richardson’s performance is close to perfect. Somehow, he makes Anthony both smug and vulnerable at the same time.
Obviously, this isn’t a film for everyone. It requires a bit of patience. But, for history nerds like me, it’s an interesting historical document, a recreation of one of biggest spy scandals of the previous century.
Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia:
- The Flight That Disappeared
- The Humanity Bureau
- The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
- The Falcon and the Snowman
- New World Order
- Scandal Sheet
- Cuban Rebel Girls
- The French Connection II