Deborah Ross

Mind the gap | 1 October 2011

Ho-hum. Another week, another batch of secret agents, and while I have nothing against secret agents personally — they are generally willing to die for their country, which is nice, although probably quite tiring — The Debt never equals the sum of its parts. It has a blinding cast (Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds) and there are some good things to be said for it but it never fully compels or meshes as the emotionally driven, multilayered, grown-up thriller it yearns to be. Plus, it is certainly in the running for my annual, much uncoveted Most Preposterous Third Act Award. The do, if you are interested, is always held at Claridges, where, in keeping with the spirit of the prize, we will either walk undamaged from a car wreck or come back from the dead or be whisked off by an alien, perhaps in the form of a giant bird. It usually depends on how we feel on the night.

Anyway, directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), this is actually a remake of the Israeli film, Ha-Hov, and although Ha-Hov may also have been ho-hum, I can’t say for sure as I didn’t see it. This flits — rather nimbly, as it happens — between two timeframes and two cities, and opens in Tel Aviv in 1997 with Mossad agent Rachel Singer (Mirren) being fêted for her heroism 30 years earlier when, along with two fellow agents, Stephan and David (Wilkinson and Hinds), she travelled to East Berlin and tracked down the Nazi war criminal Vogel (Jesper Christensen), otherwise known as ‘the surgeon of Birkenau’.

The trio were under instruction to bring Vogel back to Israel to stand trial, but it all went a bit belly-up, and Vogel was shot…or was he? Might these agents have actually been living a lie all these years and, if so, what did actually happen? Rachel has a scar from that time, physically, on her cheek, but might she be scarred in other ways, too? And have you got it, so I can now stop posing questions like this? Great.

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