Eye of the Needle (1981)

Richard Marquand directs Donald Sutherland, Kate Nelligan and Christopher Cazenove in this wartime thriller where a knife happy Nazi spy finds himself shipwrecked on remote Scottish island with an unhappy couple for company.

A movie that has a shifting nature. Starting out as a manhunt chase where an icy Donald Sutherland stabs anyone who crosses into his path through 1940’s London. This is slick stuff, there to emphasise the sociopath’s isolation among his enemy and humanity in general. It reminds me of the great 1939 thriller novel Rogue Male, where a sniper is left psychologically abandoned while outfoxing facist pursuers. Sutherland is the dark mirror of Geoffrey Household’s literary protagonist, capable yet hounded… on the wrong side of history. This alone would mark Eye of the Needle out as a decent potboiler but at the midway point, the focus changes. On the run, Sutherland’s cad washes up on Storm Island. There’s a young family reside; frustrated cripple husband, untouched wife, precious toddler son. A drive away there is only a drunken lighthouse keeper and a few sheep. They drag Sutherland from the waves. The wheelchair bound husband suspects he’s a wrong un… the wife discovers a kindred spirit. Another yearning soul who has made a bad life decision and by living with the consequences has cut themselves off from society. A tweedy, rainy, steamy gothic romance ensues – part Daphne Du Maurier, a whole hunk of a Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Ken Follet, the author whose airport novel the film is based on, sure knows how to steal from the best. Kate Nelligan is given a rich complex role, Sutherland as her inappropriate lover becomes a more rounded creation. Then night falls and we are back in action and suspense for a rousing finale. This is a film that constantly improves from a rather stock starting point… and then carries on lingering in your mind a good week after watching. Well worth hunting down… Whatever happened to Kate Nelligan?


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