As well as being very personable and rather charming, Donald Sutherland is a consistently impressive actor. He’s now 83 and has been going strong since the 1960s. It’s mind-blowing to think that he’s never even been nominated for an Oscar (although the Academy have awarded him an honorary gong). Given his performances in films such as Don’t Look Now, Kelly’s Heroes, M*A*S*H, Klute and Ordinary People, it’s an almost criminal oversight. Richard Marquand’s Eye of the Needle is up there with his best.
On honeymoon with his new wife Lucy (Kate Nelligan), and a day before he’s due to go to war, David (Christopher Cazenove) has a motor accident and loses both legs. Now bitter, twisted and a drunkard, he lives on a remote island with his wife and son. When Henry Faber (Sutherland) washes up at their door after a storm, his thoughtfulness and attentiveness spark something in Lucy. However, Henry has a secret. He’s a German spy on the run and waiting for his rendezvous.
Eye of the Needle is a film driven by two great central performances. Whilst Sutherland is impressive, it’s Nelligan who steals the show. Her portrayal of a woman dealing with isolation, her husband’s rejection and her attraction to a kind stranger, is phenomenal. Marquand does a great job of weaving this into an overarching spy narrative. In many ways, it feels like a classic British spy drama in the same vein as The 39 Steps. It’s the focus on the relationship drama which makes the Eye of the Needle such a good war thriller.
Eye of the Needle is released on Dual Format DVD and Blu-ray by the BFI on 24 September.