There’s a certain wryness that comes with putting Sean Connery in a spy film, let alone Connery agreeing to be in one, anytime post his James Bond career. But 1990’s The Russia House, based on John le Carré’s 1989 novel of the same name, both is and isn’t a spy film. What The Russia House is, is a smart, witty, romantic espionage thriller adapted for the screen by Tom Stoppard, directed by Fred Schepisi. It’s also a film I had no awareness of at all before I sat down to watch Twilight Time’s blu-ray.
Connery is Bartholomew “Barley” Scott-Blair, a British publisher whose best friend is the bottle, that finds himself one day being questioned by a group of British Intelligence agents (including an eccentric agent played by–get this–Ken Russell. Yes, THAT Ken Russell) over a manuscript sent to him by a beautiful Russian woman, Katya Orlova (Michelle Pfeiffer). The manuscript in question was written by a figure known only as “Dante,” whom Barley met at a Soviet writer’s retreat.
The manuscript is not just another work of Russian literature, but a document detailing the soviet’s capability for nuclear war. All during the initial stage of MI6’s investigation they realize this is a pool the Americans would be interested in as well. A team from the CIA, headed by the great Roy Scheider, gets on board leading to all doing their best to convince Barley to go undercover in the game of the greater good.
Barley eventually agrees and is given the Cliff Notes version of “How to Espionage for Fun and Profit.” However, as Barley goes about his business of learning all the fine data points his secret agent friends want to know, he finds himself starting to fall in love with Katya. The Russia House is a darn good film, more than just the typical spy thriller one is accustomed to. It manages to be both suspenseful, romantic, and funny. Some of Connery’s lines, which when read are clearly Tom Stoppard, are worth the price of admission alone.
The Russia House has a great score by Jerry Goldsmith, that features Branford Marsalis on soprano saxophone. Honestly, the film took me by surprise — judging by the package art I was expecting another cold war-esque thriller. How delightful to not find that at all. Connery is absolutely fantastic in the film, supported by a great cast. Connery, Pfeiffer, Scheider, John Mahoney, and even freakin’ Ken Russell! Twilight Time’s Blu-ray of the film looks good, too. Sharp and clear, with the typical image quality of a film produced in this era.
Extras are somewhat sparse for a Twilight Time release, but they include an isolated score track, the theatrical trailer, and a promotional piece for the film from 1990–that was previously included on the film’s laserdisc release. A solid presentation of a film well worth your time.