The Development of the British Conspiracy Thriller 1980-1990
This thesis adopts a cross-disciplinary approach to explore the development of the conspiracy thriller genre in British cinema during the 1980s. There is considerable academic interest in the Hollywood conspiracy cycle that emerged in America during the 1970s. Films such as The Parallax View (Pakula, 1975) and All the President’s Men (Pakula, 1976) are indicative of the genre, and sought to reflect public anxieties about perceived government misdeeds and misconduct within the security services. In Europe during the same period, directors Costa-Gavras and Francesco Rosi were exploring similar themes of state corruption and conspiracy in films such as State of Siege (1972) and Illustrious Corpses (1976). This thesis provides a comprehensive account of how a similar conspiracy cycle emerged in Britain in the following decade. We will examine the ways in which British film-makers used the conspiracy form to reflect public concerns about issues of defence and national security, and questioned the measures adopted by the British government and the intelligence community to combat Soviet subversion during the last decade of the Cold War. Unlike other research exploring espionage in British film and television, this research is concerned exclusively with the development of the conspiracy thriller genre in mainstream cinema. This has been achieved using three case studies: Defence of the Realm (Drury, 1986), The Whistle Blower (Langton, 1987) and The Fourth Protocol (MacKenzie, 1987). For each case study chapter, interviews have been conducted with the film-makers in order to gain insight into the aims and motivations that underpin each film. As well as employing these first-hand accounts of the production contexts, close analysis of film style is provided in order to understand the ways in which the British genre is informed stylistically by its Hollywood and European forebears. This means that for the first time, the British conspiracy cycle can be understood within a wider historical and cinematic context. Detractors of the conspiracy genre argue that it offers audiences a simplistic view of complex political events. We will reflect on this criticism and evaluate the extent to which the British films provide meaningful political comment within the conventions of mainstream cinema.