Blu-Ray Review – Hidden Agenda (1990)

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Hidden Agenda is a strange film in Ken Loach’s career because it’s for sure the most “commercial” of all his films. It’s first and foremost a political thriller but it’s a film in the long line of films about how the English have screwed the Irish. Loach would return to the English screwing the Irish albeit a different era later on with his Palme D’Or winning The Wind That Shakes the Barley which ended up becoming the biggest commercial success of Loach’s career.

Frances McDormand plays the girlfriend of American Journalist Paul Sullivan (Brad Dourif). Sullivan is an American civil rights lawyer to investigate human right violations. Sullivan is soon assassinated along with a IRA sympathizer under mysterious circumstances. The whole film is about the “shoot-to-kill” policy that the British government had to deal with Northern Ireland “terrorists” which the government always denied but was later revealed to be a true command by high officers. Brian Cox plays the investigator Peter Kerrigan who is loosely based on the real life John Stalker who investigated the shootings of IRA members in 1982.

Loach was looking specifically at the politically charged political thrillers of Costa-Gavras known for films like Z, State of Siege and Missing for inspiration. The screenplay was written by the controversial socialist playwright Jim Allen who would work again with Loach on Raining Sons and finally on Land and Freedom. The film works as a conspiracy thriller because it’s fundamentally about hidden agendas of the British government. Loach builds suspense expertly through McDormand’s Ingrid and Kerrigan delving into the depths of the IRA through interviewing them in back-rooms of private pubs.

The cast is impeccable Dourif despite dying early on in the film gives one of his typical fantastic performances and as with every role he inhabits shows his astonishing range as performer. McDormand was discovered by the Coen brothers in Blood Simple, she married Joel Coen during the year it was released. It was one of her first non-Coen brothers roles and was an important step into her career with has blossom in both films by the Coens and films by other directors such as Hidden Agenda and Lone Star. Brian Cox gives one the best performances of his career as the good cop so to speak who wants to get to the truth.

Signal One Entertainment is a brand new company and Hidden Agenda is one of their first releases and it’s an impressive one. The disc features a transfer which from all accounts is better than the Kino Blu-Ray release, I don’t have the release but comparisons has pointed out the better contrast and more film like look. The disc includes new filmed interviews one with a very frank Brian Cox and another with Ken Loach and the producer Rebecca O’Brien. It also includes an hour and 15 minute guardian lecture with Loach shot in 1992.

Ian Schultz

Drama, Thriller | UK, 1990 | 15| Signal One Entertainment |16th October 2015 (UK) |Dir.Ken Loach | Frances McDormand, Brian Cox, Brad Dourif, Mai Zetterling, Bernard Bloch | Buy: Special Edition [Blu-ray]