The Russia House (1990)

2016 #158
Fred Schepisi | 123 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English & Russian | 15 / R

The Russia House

Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer are on fine form in this romantic spy thriller adapted from a John le Carré novel.

Although it takes a little time to warm up, it soon reveals a typically intricate Le Carré narrative, with everyone playing everyone else as the intelligence agencies try to use Connery’s publisher to extract a Russian defector, with Pfeiffer as the go-between he begins to fall for. It all comes to a head with one of those delightful sequences where you’re not sure who’s conning who and how, and an ending that is, shall we say, pleasingly atypical for Le Carré.

The central performances are superb — I’m not sure Connery, playing against type as a washed-up ageing no-name, has ever been better. There’s a top-notch supporting cast too, including Roy Scheider as a CIA agent, James Fox as Connery’s MI6 handler, plus Michael Kitchen, Klaus Maria Brandauer, David Threlfall, and even Ken Russell. It looks fantastic as well, at least to me, in an unshowy, not over-processed, grainy, very film-y way. Thanks to digital photography, they literally don’t make them like this anymore; heck, thanks to digital grading they haven’t made them like this for about 20 years.

Is that a manuscript in your pocket or are you pleased to see me?

The Russia House is a much overlooked film, even within the small (but, recently, exponentially expanding) canon of Le Carré screen adaptations. However, with its engaging, uncommonly humane espionage story, driven by strong performances, I think it merits a degree of rediscovery.

5 out of 5

The Russia House placed 16th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here.

The Strange Monthly Update for October 2016

TV dominated my viewing this month, with whole seasons of Luke Cage, Red Dwarf, and Ripper Street released, plus sundry other shows, new and old — so many I’m not even going to list them. And I’m currently most of the way through Stranger Things too (more on that in next month’s TV round-up).

Despite that, I still found the time to watch a decent number of films — in fact, October isn’t even the lowest-totalling month this year.

And those films were…


#158 The Russia House (1990)
#159 The Quay Brothers in 35mm (2015)
—#159a In Absentia (2000)
—#159b Quay (2015)
—#159c The Comb (From the Museums of Sleep) (1990)
—#159d Street of Crocodiles (1986)
#160 A Knight’s Tale (2001)
#161 The Big Short (2015)
#162 Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2016)
#163 Moneyball (2011)
#164 Raising Arizona (1987)
#165 The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again (2016)
#166 The Transporter Refuelled (2015)
#167 The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)
#168 Cover Girl (1944)
#169 Doctor Strange (2016)
#170 The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)
#171 The Witch (2015), aka The VVitch: A New-England Folktale
The Russia House

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Doctor Strange

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  • I watched 14 new films this month, for the 29th consecutive month with 10+ films.
  • No WDYMYHS film this month, the first time I’ve faltered this year. Concerted effort at a double-bill in November, then.
  • 2016 slips behind 2015 for the first time this month: by the end of October last year I’d reached #172, whereas this year it’s only #171. Not a huge difference, but how much more will that gap widen over the next two months? Well, November 2015 was unexceptional, but I’m away for most of this December (more on that this time next month). Time will tell.
  • Two Le Carré adaptations this month, The Russia House and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Later in November, Our Kind of Traitor is coming to Amazon Prime Video; and of course we had The Night Manager earlier this year. I would say I’ll be Le Carré’d out, but his stuff is so darn good.
  • I can’t spend a whole month watching horror movies like some people do — if I spend a week watching one kind of thing I’ll usually get fed up of it. Nonetheless, I had a whole load of horror movies lined up for the last weekend or so of October… but then Stranger Things happened. Well, it happened in July, but I finally got round to it. Anyway, that’s why the extent of my horror viewing became New Moon and The VVitch.



The 17th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Quite a few films I liked this month, but only a couple that stand out as worthy of a “favourite” award. The biggest pleasant surprise was Cold War spy thriller The Russia House, an underrated Le Carré adaptation.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Oh, but this one’s hard! A couple of weaker films are spared this award by a pair of horrors: Fox’s Rocky Horror remake and the second Twilight movie, New Moon. Which was worse? Rocky Horror was insultingly poor, but it did have a couple of enjoyable parts, whereas New Moon was just dull.

Best Worst Fake Action Movie Title Ever
Face Punch! Whatever else it does or doesn’t offer, I will always be grateful to the Twilight saga for giving us the scene where they decide to go and see Face Punch.

The “Oh, Look Who It Is! This Must’ve Been Before He Was Famous” Award
goes to The Russia House, for featuring an abundance of recognisable British faces in smaller roles, from Martin Clunes as an aide who doesn’t have a single line of dialogue, to David “grandad from Outnumbered” Ryall as Sean Connery’s chum whose face we don’t even see properly because he’s filmed half from behind.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Whether or not people wanted to do the Time Warp again I don’t know, but it certainly seems they wanted to read about it: my review of Fox’s dire The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again isn’t just my most-viewed new post of October, it’s already my most-viewed new post of 2016.



More of the most popular movies of all time in this month’s selection, starring big damn actors, made by big damn directors, and featuring big damn heroes.


As my 10th year of 100 Films heads into the home straight, I’m not only thinking about what the final tally for 2016 will be, but also my total for the past decade of doing this blog. Exciting times.