1. THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (1965).
A British agent (Richard Burton) is sent to East Germany in order to plant information about an influential East German intelligence officer. Therein, and having allowed himself to be recruited, his facade becomes clear and his real identity is revealed, which begets the mission’s ultimate objective. At no point should the audience expect from Martin Ritt’s British spy thriller a semblance of closure or resolution — this is cinema at its most dispiriting and poignant, yet is captivating for its entirety.
2. THE LIVES OF OTHERS (2006).
In 1984, East Berlin, an agent of the Stasi (secret police), whilst conducting surveillance on a writer and his lover, finds himself becoming increasingly absorbed by their lives. Before seeing this film, I had limited knowledge of everyday life in East Germany during this period, not quite realising the extremes to which the Stasi went in order to ensure its civilians remained true and proper to its society’s values. This film provides some truly remarkable performances and is an insightful, powerful thought-provoker.
3. THE AMERICANS (2013–).
A pair of intelligence agents (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) from the USSR pose as a married American couple so as to spy on the American government. Quite simply, The Americans is superlative in its attempt to capture the degree to which Cold War-era espionage pervaded the West and East at the height of political tension, offering up seasons of television which are slow-burning, albeit engrossing, and of a clandestine, cat-and-mouse nature.
4. DR. STRANGELOVE (1964).
An insane general initiates a process of nuclear holocaust, which a war room of politicians and generals frantically try to stop. There are not many films which have me in stitches, but Stanley Kubrick’s satirical masterpiece, which features the ever-formidable Peter Sellers in three separate roles, does just that. I would like to think that this film isn’t an accurate portrayal of war-room behaviour.
5. BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015).
An American lawyer (Tom Hanks) is tasked with defending a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) while attempting to facilitate the exchange of said spy for a USSR-captured spy plane pilot. Unsurprisingly, the collaboration between Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg delivers, once again, a taut, unrelenting piece of cinema, one of tremendous detail and with substance in abundance.