Human Factor, The (1979): Preminger’s Final Film, British Espionage Thriller

A great cast of British actors, including Richard Attenborough, Nicol Williamson, Derek Jacobi and John Gielgud, does not help much The Human Factor.  Sadly, this British espionage thriller, based on Graham Greene 1978 novel, became Otto Preminger’s final film.

To assure faithful adaptation, Preminger hired playwright Tom Stoppard to co-write with Greene the script, which examines British espionage, and the West’s relationship with apartheid South Africa.

Maurice Castle (Nicol Williamson) is an ordinary, mid-level bureaucrat in MI6, married to a South Arican, Sarah (Iman), raise a son, Sam (Gary Forbes), together.

The company is represented by Dr. Percival (Robert Morley), an expert in assassinations and biological toxins, and Sir John Hargreaves (Richard Vernon). They advise the newly appointed security chief Daintry (Richard Attenborough) that there might be a traitor at the MI6 African desk.

Their plan is to kill the mole quietly, rather than getting publicity in a trial or a flight to Moscow. Initially, the most likely traitor is Arthur Davis (Derek Jacobi), Castle’s playboy office partner.

However, it turns out that Castle is actually the mole, who became involved with the Soviets when he was an MI6 agent in apartheid South Africa, seven years earlier.  While there, he met and fell in love with Sarah, but when their affair was discovered by the authorities, Castle was expelled out of the country, and he arranged for Sarah to be smuggled to a communist acquaintance.

Since then he’s been repaying the favor by passing on some insignificant data to the Soviets. Upon making one last leak to the communists, he is whisked off to Moscow to protect the network. However, Castle is not a communist sympathizer, his only interest is in the safety of his wife and son, who are left in London.