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Film / Defence of the Realm

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Minister: You would agree, would you not, that certain things bearing on the defence of the realm are best left unsaid.
Nick Mullen: If you mean covered up, no, I wouldn't.

Defence Of The Realm is a 1986 British thriller, starring Gabriel Byrne, Greta Scacchi, Denholm Elliott, and Ian Bannen, made and set during the Cold War.

Dennis Markham, an MP, is forced to resign when it comes out he slept with a prostitute who also may have slept with a KGB agent. However, Nick Mullen, a reporter who had been enthusiastically working on the story, starts to have doubts about it, especially after his friend and colleague Vernon Bayliss - a friend of Markham's who also had doubts about the story - winds up dead. With the help of Markham's assistant Nina Beckman, Mullen sets out to find out the truth.

This movie contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Vernon, though it doesn't stop him from being an Intrepid Reporter.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Both Mullen and Beckman end up dead because of the bomb the bad guys set off in his apartment. However, Beckman managed to get the story of what really happened to a German newspaper, which ends up leading to the British press asking questions about the whole affair.
  • Can't Stop the Signal: Because Beckman managed to leak the story to a German newspaper, at the end, the British press ends up asking questions about what really happened.
  • Captain Obvious: When Mullen, posing as a reporter from a war magazine, calls an Air Force official and asks what would cause a plane loaded with nuclear missiles to go on high alert, the official responds, "I would think that would be self-evident."
  • Chekhov's Tape Recorder: The phone tape recorder Vernon uses on a phone call with a source.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Vernon.
    Vernon: Vodka and Coca-Cola: détente in a glass!
  • Dirty Commies: Markham and Vernon are accused of being this, though Vernon protests he left the party back in 1956 (possibly because of this).
  • Genre Savvy: When Mullen figures out Beckman is not Markham's wife when they first meet (at Markham's house), he lets her go and be chased by several other reporters who assume she is; therefore, when Markham's wife really does appear, Mullen is able to talk to her by himself (until she figures out she's press and not police, as he first claimed to be) and get a scoop.
  • Get Out!: Markham's wife says this to Mullen when she figures out he's really a reporter.
  • Girl Friday: Beckman seems to be this for Markham, and when she realizes Mullen is sincere about wanting to help, she ends up being this for him as well.
  • Government Conspiracy: The British government didn't want it to get out that someone, such as a juvenile delinquent escaping from the police, could escape into a supposedly impregnable U.S. Air Force base on British soil, and right when an American Air Force plane carrying nuclear weapons was about to land. Therefore, when Markham tries to raise questions about what happened, the government frames him by implying the prostitute he was sleeping with was also sleeping with a KGB agent - except he was in reality a British agent. Then, they have Mullen and Beckman killed when they try to pursue the matter, and it's implied they had Vernon killed as well.
  • Honey Trap: Markham is believed to be involved in something like this when it's revealed he's sleeping with a prostitute who's also involved with a KGB agent. However, while Mullen buys this official story at first, he soon learns there's more to it.
  • Hopeless with Tech: Vernon has trouble setting up the tape recorder for his phone - Mullen teases him that he hasn't learned to catch up with the Industrial revolution, let alone the 20th century.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Vernon is this (though alcohol has slowed him up), and Mullen becomes this as well. It doesn't end well for either of them.
  • Learned from the News: Discussed: Vernon's editor tells Vernon to tell Markham about the story they plan on writing about him precisely to avoid this trope. Vernon isn't happy about it, but agrees to do so.
  • Once More, with Clarity: The beginning of the film shows two young men fleeing the police, and one of them escaping into a field. Near the end of the film, we see what else happened there.
  • Properly Paranoid: Mullen ends up hiding evidence inside a plastic bag, inside an empty juice container, which he then puts into a garbage bag. Unfortunately, the bad guys end up thinking of that.
  • The Reveal: Kleist, supposedly a KGB agent, was in fact a British agent. Also, the British government has been covering up the fact someone was able to break into a supposedly impregnable U.S. Air Force base, almost causing a plane carrying nuclear weapons to crash.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When Mullen reveals to Champion that Kleist is a British agent, not a KGB agent, Champion scoffs and asks if Mullen got this information out of John le Carré.
    • Mullen puts on Pachelbel's Canon while typing up his story. He also ends up playing that record right before Nina reveals she managed to send out the story to a German newspaper and fool British intelligence, and right before a bomb goes off killing Mullen and Nina.