Edward Snowden, Gabriel Byrne

Two Norwegian politicians earlier today announced their nomination of whistleblower Edward Snowden of the Nobel Peace Prize. Snorre Valen and Bard Vegar Solhjell’s action raises the prospect of Snowden winning the same prize recently awarded to Barack Obama, the man that is still trying to have him prosecuted. In honor of this awkward turn of honorable events, and in a nod to Scandanavia’s popular love of liberal politics, fighting the power and investigative reporting (observable recently on the big screen in Norway’s Joachim Rønning’s Max Manus: Man of War and neighboring Sweden’s Girl With The Dragon Tatoo franchise), I recommend a viewing of a British film released at the height of the Thatcher era Defense of the Realm (1986).

Gabriel Byrne, in his rakish pomp (this film immediately preceded his over-the-top turn as Lord Byron in Ken Russell’s Gothic, also available via FilmOn On Demand), more than presages Snowden (or perhaps more closely Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald) as the ‘hotshot’ reporter Nick Mullen who suddenly realizes he’s been helping the ‘wrong side’ after he breaks a political sex scandal story with a growing number of twists involving a Labour MP named David Markham, played by Ian Bannen (Gandhi, Louis Malle’s Damage, Bravehart). Denholm Elliot won a BAFTA award for his performance as the dissolute veteran reporter Vernon Bayliss, friends with both Markham and Mullen, all-to-aware he is caught in a net of conflicting allegiances. Greta Scacchi as Nina Beckman, a woman with a mysterious relationship to Markham, conveys the demure sexiness that was so prevalent in 80’s films in the US and England, referenced with loving irony by Wes Anderson in the form of performances such as Olivia Williams’ in Rushmore (1998). The top-notch supporting cast at the newspaper includes Bill Paterson (Bill Forsythe’s Comfort and Joy, Nicholas Roeg’s The Witches), David Calder (The World Is Not Enough, Ron Howard’s Rush), and Robbie Coltrane (‘Hagrid’ from Harry Potter).

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The London and England conveyed in Realm is grim, desolate and transitioning into the eternal acquiesence to higher tech, masking it’s role as a client state of the US. Some of these themes would be touched on at a more personal level seven years later in Mike Leigh’s critically acclaimed Naked, and of course this is our Brave New World, and it falls to those individuals and countries farther toward the fringes to provide the criticism.

Defense of the Realm is streaming on demand on FilmOn:
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