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Blunt (1987)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Blunt (1987)
BBC/Arts and Entertainment Network, tx. 11/1/1987
90 minutes, colour
DirectorJohn Glenister
ProducerMartin Thompson
ScriptRobin Chapman

Cast: Ian Richardson (Anthony Blunt); Anthony Hopkins (Guy Burgess); Michael Williams (Goronwy Rees); Rosie Kerslake (Margie Rees); Geoffrey Chater (Guy Liddell); Albert Welling (Vasily); Michael McStay (Donald Maclean)

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The role played by Anthony Blunt, art historian and advisor to the Royal family, in the defection of the KGB double agents Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean in 1951.

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Sir Anthony Blunt, celebrated art historian and Surveyor of the Royal family's pictures since 1945, was exposed in 1979 as a KGB traitor in Andrew Boyle's book The Climate of Treason. When this was confirmed in Parliament, Blunt was stripped of his knighthood, leading to much debate as to why this had been kept hidden for so long since he'd confessed to the authorities in 1964.

Neither as charming or romantic a figure as 'Kim' Philby, nor as pitiable as Guy Burgess, Blunt has inspired fascination and anger in equal measure, due to his unrepentant yet seemingly contradictory nature. Apparently as cold blooded and committed a Communist as Philby, he was also deeply entrenched as part of the British establishment. Blunt has been the inspiration for many fictional characters, including the ironically named 'Sharp' (Sebastian Shaw) in High Season (d. Clare Peploe, 1987).

The first attempt at a historically accurate portrait was Blunt (BBC, tx. 11/1/1987), written by Robin Chapman. Ian Richardson, who had a similar role in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (BBC, 1979), exudes his trademark mixture of cold ruthlessness and ironic detachment but also brings a surprising tenderness to the part. This is particularly true of his scenes with Anthony Hopkins, who imbues Burgess with a tragic romanticism so palpable that the resolution to their touching love story becomes the film's dramatic and emotional core.

The narrative focuses on Blunt's role in engineering the 1951 defection of Burgess and Maclean. Although it speculates about the homosexual aspects of the story, Chapman's script otherwise sticks closely to the known facts, relying mostly on the writings and testimony of Dr Goronwy Rees (Michael Williams), who was recruited by Burgess and worked for the KGB between 1936 and 1939. The film ends with Rees's decision to confess to MI5 and Blunt's attempts to stop him.

Rees, whose academic career ended over his connection to Burgess, later helped Boyle expose Blunt, remaining convinced that Blunt was a 'controlled schizophrenic' who continued to lie about the full extent of his spying and of his relationship with Burgess. This last part of the film is less successful, however, casting Blunt in a more conventionally villainous and Machiavellian mould as he uses his friendship with MI5 Deputy-Director General Guy Liddell to undermine Rees, later referring to British Intelligence as "...rather like one's dear old nanny. You just have to tickle her in the right place".

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Gents meeting (2:43)
2. Blunt and Burgess (3:05)
3. For Anthony's sake (2:25)
4. Into the flames (2:50)
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