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Eye of the Needle (1981) *** Bluray release

Dir: Richard Marquand | Cast: Donald Sutherland, Kate Nelligan, Christopher Cazenove, | Action Drama | UK |

EYE OF THE NEEDLE is an ambitious wartime spy thriller set on the Isle of Mull and based on Ken Follett’s novel adapted for the screen by Stanley Mann. It was one of several big screen outings made by the British TV director Richard Marquand along with Jagged Edge and Return of the Jedi.

Evergreen themes of passion vs marital allegiance are bought sharply into focus when a stranger arrives on the remote Scottish Island en route to Germany with secrets that will stop the D-Day Invasion. Donald Sutherland’s ruthless spy is the outsider who inveigles himself into the household of Lucy (Kate Nelligan) and her ex-RAF husband David (Christopher Cazenove) who is wheelchair bound after a car accident pictured in the early scenes in an idyllic English countryside. But can illicit passion survive the harsh realities of war? This is a gripping and energetic affair, with appealing performances from Cazenove and Nelligan as the conflicted couple, but somehow Donald Sutherland never feels attractive enough to appeal to this lonely woman, and despite his best efforts to bring charisma to the role, he just remains a weirdly unlikeable psychopath.

After a brief prelude in the summer of 1940, Sutherland’s unsavoury German spy called Faber -”Needle” is his codename – finds out that the Allied invasion of Europe will take place in Normandy. But while he’s about to relay this information to his superiors he is shipwrecked on Storm Island (Mull) and rescued by Lucy and David, who is threatened by his steely presence in their family home.  Meanwhile, Faber goes straight for the jugular when he realises that the couple’s marriage is in trouble largely due to David’s feelings of inadequacy, and it’s not longer before he has cast a spell over Lucy with a combination of his powerful persona and bedroom skills. Their passionate affair then becomes the central focus, the spy story taking a back seat with its rather inevitable and unsurprising showdown as Lucy comes to her senses – and there’s nothing like a drab morning in Scotland for staging a wake-up call.

But it’s Kate Nelligan who you’ll remember, nearly three decades after the film’s initial release. It’s a shame her feature film career never really went further than TV work because she brings a remarkable tenderness to her role as Lucy. As war romance thrillers go, Richard Marquand certainly made an impressionable one. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT FROMT 24 SEPTEMBER 2018 | BFI releases are available from all good home entertainment retailers or by mail order from the BFI Shop Tel: 020 7815 1350 or online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop

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