Day: April 11, 2017

Hidden Agenda – Ken Loach – Talking Pictures – tape 1516

This tape opens with the end credits of one of the Beiderbecke comedies. And even that is enough to make me a little bit happier.

Then, Ken Loach’s film Hidden Agenda. I have a vague connection to this movie, unless I’m misremembering, and I’ll explain later.

It opens with some lovely, lyrical Irish flute music and aerial shots of the landscape, over two contrasting quotes about Ireland, one about a united Ireland, the other (from Margaret Thatcher) about the North being part of the UK.

This tension is immediately illustrated as it cuts from the plaintive flute to the rather more strident marching bands, in what I presume is an Orangemen’s march. It’s certainly a unionist march judging by the number of union flags on show.

Without any context it all looks very jolly, with only to occasional shot of soldiers watching to suggest anything might be less than idyllic.

Credit spot – the music is by Stewart Copeland.

Brad Dourif, with an unlikely hairstyle, is a lawyer interviewing some young men about their treatment at the hands of the security services. It’s a very dry scene, but their description of the treatment is fairly unpleasant, including a specific description of what we now call waterboarding – having a towel wrapped round your head and water poured over your nose and mouth.

Dourif is met by Maurice Roeves, who hands him a rolled newspaper in a significant way, and who is then chased by some other men.

Also on the investigation with Dourif is Frances McDormand.

Roeves had passed Dourif a tape, and he arranges to meet him after Dourif has listened to it. But on the way to the meeting he and that man accompanying him are attacked by armed men, and he’s killed.

When they bring the body through for McDormand to identify him, it’s draped in a union flag, which seems odd. He’s an american, after all.

The police say that they opened fire after the car failed to stop at a police checkpoint. So it seems clear that this was part of the UK government’s shoot to kill policy.

So Brian Cox turns up to run an investigation into the shooting.

He liases with Jim Norton as the senior police officer, who wants a cover up. It’s always a bit jarring to see Father Ted’s Bishop Brennan in other contexts.

This movie appears to have been entirely shot in a Trusthouse Forte hotel. Possibly even the one in my town, as that dining room looks very familiar.

Michelle Fairley plays the widow of an IRA man, who arranges for McDormand to meet with the mysterious Harris (Roeves) who we now know was an officer in the British Army, but who had given Dourif a tape, and it’s that tape that seems to be key to the shooting.

Cox and McDormand finally get to meet Harris, who tells them all about how the CIA destabilised the Wilson government, and got Thatcher elected. That’s the information  on the tape.

Cox goes to meet someone in a big country house. I said I had a connection with the movie, and this is it. This big house is Gaddesden Place, and in reality is also the offices if a software company that I worked at for over 14 years. At the time, it was Computer Concepts, and we wrote software for the BBC Micro and the Acorn Archimedes. We later branched out into PC software and online stores under the name Xara.

The house was used in a lot of film and TV while I was there, and it was always fun to have a film crew, except that parking was a nightmare. But the catering truck was usually popular.

Back to the movie, and in the big house, Cox meets with two of the ‘establishment’ who casually tell him to bury his investigation, adn ignore the evidence that Harris has given him. They even have photographs of him and McDormand at the IRA club, which they hint they might release to the newspapers.

I like Brian Cox’s robust response to this ever so polite threat. “Fuck you.”

But he doesn’t go to a meeting with Harris, and tries to warn off McDormand, who goes anyway, followed by loads of people talking on radios.

This was a mistake for Harris who is immediately caught and bundled into a van. McDormand evades the spooks, and listens to the tape in a hire car.

But when she confronts Cox, leaving at the airport, he tells her that she has to let it go, that they can’t win against the shadowy apparatus of the secret services. It’s a bit of a down ending, frankly.

This film definitely fits in with other paranoid thrillers of the 80s. It shares a texture with the classics of the genre, Edge of Darkness and A Very British Coup, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of either of them.

Following this, there’s an interview with Ken Loach at the National Film Theatre, with Derek Malcolm. It’s an interesting look at some clips from some of his films, with his comments on the background.

After this, recording continues, and there’s a random episode of Evening Shade with Burt Reynolds. Then the tape ends.

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