In 1936, Alfred Hitchcock took the bones of Joseph Conrad's 1907 novel and sculpted the contemporary thriller Sabotage, with Oscar Homolka as a cinema owner waging a terrorist campaign on London with the unwitting assistance of his wife and her brother. Hampton's version restores the tale to the 1880s, and is more respectful of Conrad's narrative, characters and tone, yet it's this new adaptation which travesties the novel. At least, the Hitchcock - minor, by his standards - catches an authentic whiff of terror. On the plus side, Hoskins is well cast as the 'corpulent anarchist', Verloc, who is in fact a double agent working for the Russian embassy and Scotland Yard. With his bowler hat, umbrella and squat rotund frame, Hoskins makes an appropriately sorry spy, but Hampton squanders the performance. After an atmospheric opening, he loses his grip on the material and shuffles awkwardly between a handful of variable cameos. Most disastrous is Arquette's phonetically precarious Mrs Verloc, Cockney by way of Timbuktu.
The Secret Agent
Cast and crew