A Different Loyalty (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

In A Different Loyalty, Sharon Stone plays an unglamorous 1950s American housewife who is married to the frumpy New York Times correspondent in Beirut when she falls in love with one of her husband's colleagues, a handsome and romantic freelance British writer. They have a passionate whirlwind courtship followed by five years of ecstatically happy marriage until one day when her romantic new husband simply disappears without warning. When all the smoke clears, it turns out that her husband had been possibly the most successful spy in history, a KGB plant who had also wormed his way deep into the bowels of British intelligence. When his cover was blown, the Russians abruptly smuggled him to Moscow. His wife and family had known nothing of his double life.

In order to hear an explanation directly from her husband, Mrs. Spy visits him in Moscow, after which she is subjected to humiliating interrogations by the British and Americans. She returns to Moscow one more time, hoping to persuade he husband to return and co-operate with the British authorities. She will not move their family to Moscow, so he must choose between a wife he truly loves and the Communist ideology he truly believes in. At one point, Sharon Stone rips her robe open, shows her breasts to her spy husband and says melodramatically, "You have to choose. What's more important to you, me or the Communist Party?"

I'm not kidding. That really happened in the film. Moreover, it really happened in real life! You see, this film is a roman a clef based on the life of the legendary spy Kim Philby, at least the portion of it covered by his wife's book, "Kim Philby: The Spy I Loved." In real life, Philby answered his wife, "The Party, of course." In the film, the spy was more discreet and provided no answer. As long as the scriptwriter was going to change the answer, he may as well have changed the question as well.  I mean, as long as Sharon was baring her breasts anyway, she should have cupped them and said, "What's more important to you, THESE or the Communist Party?"

Of course, since the spy was played by the publicly admitted homosexual Rupert Everett, I guess he still would have gone with the Party.

Philby was the dominant figure in 20th century espionage. You've heard of The Third Man, I suppose. That was Philby, who was a very good friend and colleague of the novelist Graham Greene, the author of The Third Man. The actual meaning of the term comes from an episode in which two double agents mysteriously escaped the dragnet of an internal investigation at the British intelligence agency. Just as the noose was about to close around them, the two men, who were supposed to be unaware of the probe, disappeared from England and reappeared in Moscow. Who tipped them off? The British knew that there must have been a third man - another KGB plant who was deep enough into British intelligence that he was aware of the investigation and helped to smuggle his colleagues out. But who was the third man? That turned out to be Philby, although it would be about a dozen years before that was known with any certainty. Philby was dismissed from the intelligence service in the early 50s, right after the probe, but the British eventually started trusting him again, and he was being used as a freelance informant, under cover as a journalist in Beirut.

That brings us back to where the movie begins.

Despite a substantial thirteen million dollar budget and some pricey location shooting in London and Moscow (and Malta, which played the part of Lebanon), A Different Loyalty never received theatrical distribution in the United States or the U.K. I suppose there is some justification for that. The film quite clearly shows that Mrs. Philby was treated far better by the authorities in Moscow than those in the U.S. or the U.K., who used threats, insults, and scare tactics to extract information from her. This was handled with melodramatic flourish as thuggish FBI agents threatened to throw her out a window and hurt her children! The film treats Philby as a hero of sorts who was really not a traitor to his country, but rather a man who was loyal to the only thing he believed in - the socialism of the Soviet Union. In Philby's mind, he did not choose to be born in England, but he did choose Marxism. The Russians appreciated his contribution. In 1988, many years after the events pictured here, Philby received a hero's funeral in the Soviet Union. I suppose if the film had been a potential box office monster, distributors might have been willing to take a chance on its controversial content, but nobody felt that way, so everyone steered away from the controversy, and it went straight to video.

Rupert Everett, the film's star had this to say in his book,

"It was a great story and had the makings of a good film. Unfortunately, however, it was destined for a premiere on the shelf at Blockbuster video stores. The warning signs were there from the start. For some reason, Sharon insisted on changing the names from the real characters to new, invented ones. Equally problematic were the flat, overwritten dialogue, the ever-shrinking budget and the fact that purely for tax reasons we were filming in Montreal when the story took place in New York, London, Beirut and Moscow. "

It is not a documentary, or even a docudrama. The names of the characters have been changed, and it is clearly represented as a fictional story because the facts are embellished, entire incidents are cut from whole cloth, and the script does not restrict itself to Mrs Philby's book. In spite of that, it is substantially the story of the Philby marriage and their attitudes, so it provides some accurate insight into how people thought in an earlier time, and how Philby and his family viewed the world(s) they lived in. It's not a great movie, and has minimal entertainment value, but it is fairly edifying simply because it stays quite close to reality in many ways.  If Michael Mann had made this film, it could have been a masterpiece. As it is, it's just watchable.

   

DVD INFO

  • No meaningful features
  • 4:3 transfer only; quality acceptable

 

NUDITY REPORT

Sharon Stone is topless in a love scene, shows her right breast in a downblouse, and exposes the same breast again in the notorious "me or the Communist Party" scene.

DVD Everett's autobiography

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Miscellaneous ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C-. I'm glad I watched it, but - fair warning - I consider it more of an educational experience than an entertainment picture.

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