One of the great novels of the twentieth century which foreshadowed our absurd modern terrorist/anarchist world was Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. The novel arose from a true story from the 1890s, about a man who was unsuccessful in blowing up the Greenwich Observatory.
This adaptation is very faithful to Conrad’s original text, often using dialogue unchanged from the source material. Christopher Hampton wrote and directed this film version.
Bob Hoskins is excellent as the nervous, high-strung anarchist Verloc and his innocent, ignorant wife is well-acted by Patricia Arquette. Gerard Depardieu is effective as the lying Ossipon who betrays Winnie, Verloc’s wife. Jim Broadbent makes an effective full-of-himself Inspector Heat, and Christian Bale plays a convincing sensitive, mentally-ill brother of Winnie whom she mothers, but who can’t prevent tragic harm from coming to him. But an unbilled Robin Williams nearly steals the entire show as The Professor, a mad bomber who equips Verloc’s fatal attack.
The strange music of Philip Glass underscores the shocks and surprises of the plot, and the cinematography captures the look of early 19th century London.
In addition to the realistic treatment of anarchism and terrorism, Hampton’s film also portrays Conrad’s views of men and women and his nihilistic views of human affairs and choices in general.
Well-worth seeing. A realistic and very contemporary take on an underrated Conrad classic.