The spectacular real-life scam of a ballsy man that has lasted in the UK for almost a decade allows for a pulse-racing escape in Rogue Agent. It’s such a far-fetched story that one would be hard-pressed to buy into a movie unless it actually happens, and it does here in a thread that’s intriguing from the start and doesn’t only momentarily loses some of his footing towards the end. Thanks to strong and enticing performances from protagonists James Norton and Gemma Arterton, this most gripping drama is an IFC Films release in the US, where it will also be available to stream on AMC+, while Netflix will air it on its own. territory.
Britain has probably produced more top-notch spy stories, both in literature and on screen, than any other nation, but this one has a special flavor that sets it apart. It’s both smart and sexy, a combination rare enough to always be welcome, and the daring of the central character, Robert Hendry Freegard, in both work and play is as immediately captivating as it is appalling; the man has done some major nonsense.
Taking advantage of a spy shortage (who knew?) that plagued England for around a decade from the early 1990s and sparked the unprecedented use of “independent” undercover investigators, young Freegard, who speaks well, used his considerable charm and persuasiveness to successfully pose as a member of MI5’s internal security apparatus. The gentleman’s effective con was to seduce women whom he then persuaded to give him money to supposedly continue his top-secret search for enemies, including IRA agents.
A quick tour of the internet reveals that the real Robert Freegard wasn’t a matinee idol, but he made up for it with quick, intelligent conversation and an inviting manner. On the other hand, Norton, who represents him, does not have such a handicap; on the contrary, he could hardly be more dashing debonair as a cunning chatterbox and experienced charmer who has little trouble landing his prey and, eventually, his bank account.
Not that Alice Archer (Arterton) is some sort of supermodel or pushover, far from it. They had met before – nine years earlier, in fact – and the attraction on both sides is clear. The screenplay by Michael Bronner and co-directors Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn (the latter two directed the acclaimed three-part film The Salisbury poisonings, which was the most-watched drama on the BBC of 2020) deftly trades both quiet but necessary exposition and insinuating banter; it’s all smart with a slick British polish, and the two lead actors know how to set it up with plenty of trickery and trickery in store.
At this point in her career, Alice is what is known as an “investigative lawyer” and one of her skills is looking into people’s credit history. When she checks out her new Romeo, she discovers he doesn’t have one. “You don’t exist,” she informs him. Unfazed by this accusation, Robert, or whatever his name is, reveals his status as a spy and, in very James Bond fashion, lets her take the wheel of his scorching red Ferrari en route for a romantic weekend in a Lighthouse. Her new life plan, under the influence of her new boyfriend, is to “make the most of things”.
If only she had known what she was getting into. The developments are sometimes a little difficult to follow, but are judiciously presented overall. Fundamentally, the film is never flippant about Robert’s abilities – you have to believe in his powers of persuasion to swallow the premise. The changing dynamic tests the thoroughness of Robert’s massive con and his ability to fool even his clever new inamorata.
In the end, Freegard defrauded around £1million from at least seven victims over the course of a decade. But, above all, the main focus throughout the consistently gripping film remains on Alice, a fortuitous choice because she’s so smart and always gets ripped off. One wonders why the victims were stupid enough to allow themselves to be taken in so completely. Basically, the script and the actors make it all believable, even though the reality has been glamorized, tweaked, and in every way made more glamorous and provocative.