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Eye of the Needle

CritiqueQuotes • At the movies

Storm Island, first editionFirst edition
Ken Follett
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

Original Title
Storm Island

First book publication
1978, Britain

Literature form

Thriller, espionage

Writing language

Author's country

approx. 102,000 words

Eye of the Needle scene scene
Lucy Rose (Kate Nelligan) falls for her husband's killer (Donald Sutherland) in Eye of the Needle adaptation.

A sharp suspense classic

Eye of the Needle (1981): Film, 112 minutes; director Richard Marquand; writer Stanley Mann; featuring Kate Nelligan, Donald Sutherland, Christopher Cazenove, Ian Bannen, Philip Martin Brown

The film of Ken Follett's novel Eye of the Needle is surprisingly good, made as it was so quickly after the book reached its heights of bestsellerdom. Not a classic in the British dramatic tradition but a well-crafted suspense thriller. It also engages the emotions just enough so as not to disappear from memory the moment the thrills are over.

The film's deliberate pacing comes at the expense of most of the book's backgrounding and subplots. Gone are Follett's expository sections describing intelligence battles during the Second World War before the Allies landed in Europe, as well as the stories relating the personal baggage of the British spycatchers. Thankfully, most of the scenes involving the British and German command, including appearances by Hitler and Churchill, are also jettisoned.

Sharp focus is kept on the Nazi spy, as he's chased across Britain carrying vital information about the coming landing, and his ultimate confrontation with Lucy Rose on Storm Island, where he awaits his rendezvous with a U-boat.

In some ways, the movie is more realistic in depicting his exploits. At one point, for example, he and his stiletto dispatch two Home Guard officers who confront him, instead of the five soldiers killed at once in the novel. He's not quite a superman, just a supremely competent espionage agent.

Original trailer for the 1981 adaptation of the bestselling Eye of the Needle.

Donald Sutherland captures the spy's personality perfectly. His eyes are as cold as humanly possible as he performs his duty to the Fatherland, driving his dagger into anyone who gets in the way of his task. Yet you can see the hints of unease in his soul as he softens toward Lucy and her little boy.

Not to take that too far. In the end his drive to complete his mission dominates.

Matching his repressed inner turmoils are those of Lucy who is on another emotional journey. Kate Nelligan is convincing as the frustrated young mother who falls for the cool charms of the stranger on the island. She eventually turns against him when she realizes who he really is, but right up to the end you can see she is conflicted.

The script's one failing may be the gradual relegation of the British forces chasing the spy to bit players as the story progresses. They have virtually no role in the resolution of the struggle on Storm Island. The film ends abruptly with the final scene between Lucy and the spy.

I suspect some wrapup scenes were shot as I've seen stills that seem to depict Lucy and the British agents together on the island, though it is understandable they were cut to end the movie with an emotional punch.

— Eric


CritiqueQuotes • At the movies

See also:

The Thirty-Nine Steps

Gorky Park

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