‘Barley’ Blair (Connery) is a boozy owner of a British publishing house that specializes in Russian literature. He has inherited the family business and he is slowly running it into bankruptcy. While attending a book fair in Russia he is approached by Katya Orlova (Pfeiffer) who has a manuscript by her husband that exposes the Russian military and their technology as a house of cards. Blair takes it to the British secret service. There ensues a cat and mouse game where the British and the Americans try to determine whether this is genuine or a plant by Russian KGB. Blair (and Katya) are pawns stuck in the middle. In the process Blair falls in love with Katya.
I seem to latch onto these movies that were not a big success and got lost and forgotten. We have this on our Netflix que. It’s shown as saved with an unknown availability date. It’s like ‘I know we have a copy around here somewhere. When it turns up we’ll send it to you.’
The movie is based on a John LeCarre novel of the same name. I like his books. He writes about spies who are not like James Bond. They are weary boring civil servant, unglamorous. They are amoral. They use people to get what they want. A lot of LeCarre’s books have been made into movies. His stories tend to be a little on the adult side. This one is probably one of his cleanest. The movie is R rated, probably for language. I can’t remember too much objectionable in it.
Probably one of the reasons I like this movie is my literary arrogance. I read the book before I saw the movie. I met and liked Barley Blair in the book and when I saw the movie I immediately recognized the character on the screen. It’s especially gratifying to get to know a character in a book and then meet him on the screen. The first time Blair showed up I wanted to say ‘Hey, I know that guy’. Sean Connery pulls off a perfect characterization of the Barley Blair in the book.
The other reason I like the book and the movie is the theme. Sometimes you have to look beyond the story. Some books, some movies are just entertainment. Some have a message that shouts at you. Then there are some that have a message that you have to look for. As my son says about Star Wars, it’s about redemption. The Russia House is about redemption.
More about that tomorrow.