Socialist Worker

To Russia with love

Television The BBC's drama Cambridge Spies shows the real life 1940s double agents

Issue No. 1850

GUY BURGESS, Donald Maclean, Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt were Britain's most notorious and successful 20th century spies. Their lives are depicted in the watchable BBC2 drama Cambridge Spies, a four-part series starting on Friday of this week.

They first met as students at Trinity College, Cambridge, in the 1930s. Recruited by Moscow as agents, they penetrated the heart of the British intelligence establishment. Virtually everything the government discussed in its innermost secret circles, or discussed with its American allies, found its way to the USSR. For well over a decade, during the important period of the Second World War and the Cold War, they escaped detection.

Burgess and Maclean fled to Russia in 1951. Philby, having served the KGB for over 30 years, finally defected in 1963. Only in 1979 was Sir Anthony Blunt officially unmasked, and deprived of his title.

How come they were never caught? Commentators have concentrated on the old boy network and on their sexual appetites (of the four, Burgess and Blunt were homosexual). Undoubtedly, this helped them succeed. But these are not the main reasons. Most spies get caught because they do it for the money.

Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Blunt spied out of political conviction. They wanted capitalism and imperialism destroyed, and Communism (in the shape of the Soviet Union) victorious. There were immense contradictions in all this.

The weapons they chose involved them operating as ultra-loyal members of the class they wanted to overthrow. And the twists and turns of Soviet policy imposed enormous strains on their sense of commitment to an ideal. The BBC series gets all this across very successfully by using fiction to supplement historical reality.

The series opens with the four of them at Cambridge in revolt against a world of privilege. It doesn't take long for this revolt to crystallise into political action. 'To fight fascism', declares Philby, 'you have to be a Communist.' There is anti-Semitism among students, appeasement of fascism by the dons and exploitation of the college servants.

Soon the four discover that fighting fascism through being agents to Moscow involves more than spontaneous revolt. Their 'handler' teaches them that they cannot afford the 'luxury' of being openly Communist. They have to hide their views.

Worse than that, they have to learn to blend into the establishment, at whatever cost to their own happiness or integrity. They mix with appeasers and pro-Nazis. In their personal lives they sacrifice love and affection.

All this imposes an immense strain. Only their faith in one another holds them together. The series is sensitive to the political issues of the period. It understands but does not caricature the nature of Stalinism and how that tragically twisted people's commitments.

The series is also superbly filmed and acted. The makers have resisted the temptation to produce a costume drama. The arguments and discussion are complex and believable.

The series has scenes of great humour and of suffering, as well as superb moments of understated satire. All this makes it a series well worth watching.
Gareth Jenkins


Film

Desperate hopes 4 a better life Lilya 4-Ever

Director: Lukas Moodysson

THE NEW film by Moodysson begins with a young woman, battered and bruised, running through the streets of a grey city. She is desperate and scared. We last see her on a motorway bridge, taking a deep breath.

This is a stark opening from the director whose previous film, Together, had a more humorous take on life. Together gave a sense of the terrible loneliness most people suffer in this society, but also that there is a possibility of living a different way. In Lilya 4-Ever the main character has been abandoned by her mother, ripped off by her aunt, scorned by her schoolteacher, and let down by her best friend in quick succession.

The film's setting is one of the countries of the former Soviet Union in modern times. This is a society where the reality of the free market has been brutally brought home to ordinary people. Lilya hooks up with Volodya, a 12 year old boy, who has been kicked out by his father. Their relationship begins when she convinces him not to throw himself off a bridge - the world may not be a great place, but we have to try to live in it.

Theirs is the only caring and non-exploitative relationship in the film. By contrast Andrei lures Lilya to move to Sweden on the promise of a job and hope of a better life. Like other recent films about those who flee their country, Dirty Pretty Things and In This World, the 'better life' is hard to come by. Lilya finds herself the victim of people trafficking, sold like a commodity, and ends up locked up in a tiny flat and raped, again and again.

There is no comment or analysis in this film, and no answers. It is a simple story of events in one young woman's life. The young people's performances are amazing, and this is a fantastically moving film.
Sally Campbell


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Sat 10 May 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1850
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