It is 1917 and the Russian Revolution is sweeping the country. Elena (Kay Francis) has dedicated her life to the Cause as personified by Lenin. But during a street riot her life is saved by Stephen Locke (Leslie Howard), an unofficial diplomatic agent for England. The two, although dedicated to opposing causes, fall for each other. But Elena learns that Locke is wanted by the secret police for his revolutionary activities and she is ordered to obtain evidence of Locke's scheming. She does so -- although she knows this will condemn him to death.
Touted at the time of its release as most expensive picture yet produced by the studio, director Michael Curtiz does not allow the sweep and spectacle to overwhelm the very human drama that lies at the heart of British Agent.
BRITISH AGENT starred the Hungarian/British actor Leslie Howard in the title role, was directed by full-fledged Hungarian Michael Curtiz, and costarred American leading lady Kay Francis as a Russian spy. Based on the memoirs of R. H. Bruce Lockhart, who had been the unofficial British emissary to the Russian Revolutionary government in 1917, BRITISH AGENT spends more time on its romantic subplot than in recreating the birth of Bolshevism. Leslie Howard's purpose in this film is to dissuade the Bolsheviks from signing a separate treaty with the World War I German regime. It is obvious to modern-day viewers that Howard is merely looking after Britain's interests and has no concern for the Russians; this was par for the course in a 1930s film, but does not play well with less jingoistic audiences of the 1990s. The most interesting aspect of BRITISH AGENT is the performance of saturnine Irving Pichel as a young Josef Stalin.
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