Dir/Writer: Peter Stephan Jungk | Doc | Austria 2016 | 91 min.
Based on his non-fiction book Die Dunkelkammern der Edith Tudor-Hart (The Dark Rooms of Edith Tudor-Hart), Peter Stephan Jungk explores the exciting secret life of his great aunt Edith Tudor-Hart (1908-1973).
This enigmatic woman was best known in the art world as an iconic photographer (her photos can be admired in the Scottish National Gallery), but the clue to her secret life lies in the double meaning ‘dark rooms’: she was also a spy instrumental in the recruiting of Kim Philby and the other members of the ‘Cambridge Five’.
Born into a progressive Jewish family in Vienna 1908 – her father renounced Judaism then founded a bookshop and a publishing company. Edith Suschitzky was only sixteen when she went to London in 1925 to study with Maria Montessori, the famous Kindergarten pioneer. On her return she worked in Vienna’s branch of the Montessori School – but her life changed when she met the academic Arnold Deutsch in 1926, who also worked as a recruiter for the KGB. Their relationship was significant for two reasons: he not only recruited her for the organisation but also gave her a Rolleiflex camera, and she set out to picture the poorer districts in Vienna before studying Photography at the Bauhaus in Dessau under Kandinsky and Klee among others.
Edith also developed radical tendencies – visiting London she was expelled after filming a demonstration and talking to a Soviet delegate. But by then she had already met Dr. Alex Tudor-Hart who would later divorce his wife and move to Vienna, where they were married. Her photos were published by TASS and after the Austrian Nazi Party became more and more powerful in the mid 1930s the couple fled to the England where they renewed their acquaintance with the recently married Litzi Friedmann and Kim Philby, who had also had to leave Vienna for the UK after the Nazi Party had killed the Austrian chancellor Dollfuss. In 1934 Edith introduced Philby to Arnold Deutsch in Regents Park – the rest is history.
Jungk enlivens his debut documentary with interviews with family, amongst them Edith’s brother Wolf, and other witnesses of her turbulent life. What becomes clear is that Edith was an idealist who never saw the Soviet system but was faced, like all central Europeans, with the alternative of Hitler and Stalin. Above all she was a humanist who never received any money for her clandestine activities – but unlike Philby, MacLean, Burgess and Blunt – she always lived modestly. Her first loves were the impoverished children of Vienna and Brixton, whose lives she hope to transform through her creative endeavours. AS
AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 27 July 2018 | Arthouse Crouch End, Bertha DocHouse, Barbican Cinema and JW3 | Main photo credit: Family Suschitzky