The time is World War II, shortly before D-Day. Lucy Rose (Kate Nelligan) lives on an isolated island with her crippled husband, David (Christopher Cazenove), their young son, and a sheep herder named Tom (Alex McCrindle). Embittered by the accident that left him in a wheelchair, David is abusively violent and emotionally shut off. One night, during a sudden storm, a man who says his name is Henry Faber (Donald Sutherland) turns up on the island. Henry claims that the storm caught him by surprise and left him stranded. David doesn’t trust him and it turns out that, for once, David is right. Faber is actually a semi-legendary German spy, code-named The Needle because his preferred instrument of murder is a stiletto. Faber has discovered the plans for the Allied Invasion of Normandy. He’s only on the island because he is waiting for a German u-boat to arrive and take him back to Berlin. Complicating matters is that a romance has developed between Faber and Lucy.
Based on a novel by Ken Follett, Eye of the Needle is an old-fashioned spy thriller, distinguished by Kate Nelligan’s sensual turn as Lucy and Donald Sutherland giving what might be his career best performance in the role of Henry Faber. Until he meets Lucy, Faber is a remorseless sociopath who is willing to kill anyone who discovers the truth about his identity. For the majority of the film, it is left ambiguous whether Faber loves Lucy or if he’s just using her and Sutherland plays the role as if Faber himself is not really sure. The final confrontation between Faber and Lucy is both suspenseful and exciting and will convince you to never stick your hand through a window unless you’re sure about what’s on the other side. Eye of the Needle is a World War II thriller that deserves to be better known.
Following the success of this film, Richard Marquand was hired to direct Return of the Jedi., a film that is light years away from the gloomy world portrayed in Eye of the Needle. He later directed another well-regarded thriller, Jagged Edge, before passing away from a stroke in 1987 at the age of 49.