Love in the time of glasnost…
A British publisher is asked by British Intelligence to learn the truth behind a manuscript and falls in love with the book’s editor.
The Russia House Official Trailer #1 – Sean Connery Movie (1990) HD, Movieclips Classic Trailers and photos from MGM
Today it’s the review of The Russia House (1990), with Michelle Pfeiffer’s leading man and love interest the always watchable Sean Connery. Both heading a wonderful supporting cast, who for the most part chew the scenery as British and American Intelligence Services. Meanwhile, a John Le Carre love story develops between a Russian and a Scot in the then Soviet Union of 1987, at the time of glasnost.
The opening credits show the Kremlin, accompanied by the hauntingly beautiful, Jerry Goldsmith love theme. Michelle Pfeiffer as Katya Orlova comes into view walking like a woman on a mission, clutching onto a bag like her life determines it.
At the same time, we hear Head Publisher and British National, Bartholomew “Barley” Scott Blair interrogated by some terribly English British Intelligence types about his relationship with her. We hear Connery’s distinctive Scottish lilt as Barley gruffly vehemently denies this. Both these scenes run simultaneously for a while.
The British Intelligence inform Barley that Katya (Pfeiffer) attended the British Council’s Audio Fair in Moscow, looking for him a week ago. Barley replies he did not attend due to financial problems. There Katya met his stand-in, Nicky Landau. As Barley (Connery) continues to deny meeting her and he is getting more than annoyed with this line of questioning.
Katya – a book editor – asks Nicky, that he give her friend’s written manuscript directly to Barley for publication. She is determined but fears she is being watched, it is apparent she is putting herself in danger by handing him this manuscript. Katya confides to Nicky that the manuscript’s content can’t be published in the Soviet Union.
Later Nicky takes a wee look at these papers and sees they detail sensitive Soviet plans on their capability for Nuclear War. Nicky hands it over to British Intelligence in London, as he is unable to reach Barley. Barley’s intense interrogation continues from a who’s who of British actors. The manuscript also has enclosed a letter for Barley, with Katya writing a term of endearment both at the start of the letter and before her signature, raising concerns.
Barley denies knowing Katya, and reports he took a business trip to the Soviet Union a few months previously. Whilst there he went to a Soviet Writer’s Village with some Soviet colleagues as their guests. He stresses she did not attend this. He tells how over some drinks, he spoke enthusiastically of his hopes for the new dawn for the Soviet Union and the West.
He adds that on a walk, he encountered the enigmatic Dante (Brandauer). Dante having watched his earlier passionate speech is inspired. Dante tells Barley he is a liar of sorts but asks him if should he act like a hero if Barley will support him. Barley then promises he will, promising he’s not a spy.
Barley’s interrogation tapes are then played to the American Intelligence who deduce they are not sure if the manuscript is genuine after a lengthy analysis. Some familiar faces Russell (Roy Scheider), Colonel Jackson Quinn (Walsh) and Brady (John Mahoney) debating this with those in the know.
Meanwhile Barley – now bleary-eyed and tired – is being shown slides in the hope to identify Dante. But as the screen pauses, he sees one of Katya, and a flicker of attraction passes his face. The British Intelligence then acknowledge Barley does not know her, then ask him a wee favour…
Barley is asked to meet Katya in Moscow, to find out the manuscript’s author and if it is genuine in nature. With a wee course for Barley’s undercover spy role from Ned, and a minder in Wicklow (posing as a work colleague). Barley rigged up with British Intelligence monitoring and recording his every move.
Barley meets with Katya. Barley is charming, witty, relaxed and himself in spite of his situation. Katya is initially guarded but over time but after a number of meetings, she lets her defences down. Katya tells him about her first meeting with the manuscript’s author, their relationship, his then and now ideals for his country and his first name, Yakov. Katya confirms to Barley that Dante and Yakov are one and the same…
British Intelligence now obtains these crucial details, it is revealed that Dante is a famous Soviet physicist Yakov Saveleyev. However, then Katya asks Barley if he’s a spy… She is unaware that Barley’s task is to try to now meet with Yakov to find out the truth about his manuscript.
Barley has fallen in love with her… I won’t tell you how things develop from here but will tell you the slow-motion ending is guaranteed to make you start and stop a sob, in time with the frames of the film until that Goldsmith love theme returns for the last time.
The film is set to events taking us to the late 1980s Soviet Union and to the stunning backdrop of Portugal. It has a wonderful in-film sightseeing guide to the Soviet Union, with Connery and Pfeiffer as photogenic as their surroundings. This film additionally gives us an insight into late 1980s Soviet life in St Petersburg and Moscow.
This is definitely one of Pfeiffer’s most underrated roles and her sweet performance as Katya, is definitely one of my favourites. Pfeiffer’s accent is as impeccable as Brandauer’s, and these both complement their gentle, passionate and quietly determined Soviet characters. Both would easily win a “Best Improvised Accent” Oscar. They easily overshadow Pfeiffer’s on-screen love’s “accent” in The Hunt for Red October (1990).
There Connery played a Russian with a Scottish accent. Unlike the in-film explanation for The Eagle Has Landed (1976) to explain a German Michael Caine’s Cockney accent. Connery’s role in The Hunt for Red October was ironically a role that originally belonged to Brandauer.
With Pfeiffer’s minimal makeup and less glamorous look, she exuded the inner and outer beauty in her character. Also as the only woman in this cast, this made her character seem more vulnerable as her on-screen character’s situation becomes more precarious as the story developed. Her on-screen rapport with Connery was fantastic to watch as the pair’s on-screen relationship developed at a gentle realistic pace.
Through Connery’s relaxed, humorous, natural charm and charisma we saw her timid, and at times frightened character open up to trust him. Relaxing with him so much she told him more about Dante including his identity, without thinking. Then inviting him into her life, meeting her children and her uncle. These add to her character’s vulnerability. These trusting actions make an impact on Barley who has fallen for her quite hard.
As her love interest, Connery is fantastic, and in the opening scene, he looks quite roguish with his unkempt hair, goatee and safari suit. I’m sure he’s the only person who could get away with this combination. Apart from possibly his fellow Bond, Roger Moore. Connery’s character named Bartholomew “Barley” Scott Blair, made me wonder if this was almost like an attempt as one-upmanship with Moore in a competition to get the most amazing name ever for a non- Bond film. Moore, his fellow Bond played Rufus Excalibur ffolkes in North Sea Hijack / ffolkes (1980) ten years earlier.
Like his role in Outland (1981) it’s Connery’s eyes that give away much more of his feelings in all his scenes. Be it the twinkle in his eye in his charming scenes showing his character’s dry humour. Or in the scene where Barley proclaims his love for Katya, which is revealed in a breathtakingly beautifully performed speech. Here his character is at his most sincere and earnest. Returning a lighter note, he plays this role with his roguish charm always evident, and this is seen especially in his scenes with Pfeiffer.
The American cast was played with some punch, with special mention to Mahoney who seemed the most human and genial of the bunch. His more trustworthy character shows a more amiable rapport with Connery’s character. In contrast to Scheider’s more jaded Russell who looked and sounded as pissed off as Brody would have been if people still insisted on swimming despite a shark warning at Amity Beach. J T Walsh almost auditioned for a role in A Few Good Men (1992).
And the British cast acted with panache. It was fun playing spot the British thespian in those initial ensemble scenes. In The Russia House, Ken Russell annoyed me as much as his character irritated everyone else. Fox and Kitchen seemed like their future and past terribly British titled roles they’d played before.
However, one supporting actor, Wicklow annoyed me throughout his appearances, with me remembering him only as a familiar face from film or TV. Reference sources identified him as David Threlfall, who to be Frank, it would be Shameless if you didn’t recognise him…
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂10
Hulk Rating: /10
This post was added to Pfeiffer Films and Meg Movies Pfeiffer Blogathon. Other reviews here with this cast include John Mahoney in his tribute post and in Moonstruck, Say Anything and Frasier. Sean Connery in Outland, Family Business, Murder on the Orient Express and in a remembrance post HERE. Pfeiffer in my One Fine Day, Grease 2, Into the Night, Sweet Liberty, The Deep End of the Ocean and The Witches of Eastwick posts. Roy Scheider appears in All that Jazz.