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It is like layers of an onion, and the more you peel away, the more you feel like crying.


Hidden Agenda
(1990)

The closest Ken Loach will probably come to a starry cast and a mainstream thriller, but his subject matter is still as politically-charged as ever. Indeed, if there’s a failing here it’s that on the occasions where characters start sermonising it is particularly jarring to this kind of plot; the others in the scene are compelled to stop what they are doing and listen to a lecture.

Taking as its basis the investigation into the RUC’s shoot-to-kill policy, Loach’s film opens with the murder of a civil rights lawyer (Brad Dourif) by RUC officers. When Kerrigan (Brian Cox) is called in to interrogate the official story, he’s aided in his inquiries by the girlfriend of the deceased (Frances McDormand). Kerrigan learns that the account of what happened was fabricated and that the lawyer was in possession of a tape implicating senior military and Conservative figures in illegally manouvering Thatcher’s rise to power.

The cast is rounded out by a number of familiar faces including Maurice Roeves (as the British army officer who recorded the tape), The Bill’s John Benfield, Bernard Archard (as a wily government official) and Jim Norton (Bishop Brennan himself, on particularly malevolent form).

It’s a long time since I last saw this, and it took me by surprise how full-blooded the conspiracy plotline is; Oliver Stone would heartily approve. One might suggest this distracts from the serious points Loach has to make about Northern Ireland, but I heartily enjoyed its more extravagant machinations. The main players all do fine work, particularly Cox as a highly principled character who finds himself in over his head.

****

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