A Spy Among Friends, Episode 3: Allegory of the Catholic Faith

Allegory of the Catholic Faith is a painting by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. The painting, housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York since 1931, depicts a woman with one foot on top of a globe representing the dominance of the Catholic Church across the world. The  Crucifixion scene on the wall is based on a painting by the Flemish artist Jacob Jordaens that Vermeer had in his collection.

The painting makes such a fitting title for this episode since the episode does not only have a direct connection to the painting itself but also to the Catholic faith as well as to the Crucifixion.

As a bus full of German families stops at a Russian check point, we have a time jump to Day 3 at the SIS safe house in Beirut. Elliott offers Philby, in return for a full confession, a nice retirement in the countryside with his family who will not have the slightest idea about what he has done. But Philby does not seem to be listening.

Instead, he invites Elliott to a dinner party at his house the following night. Some American friends from The Times and CIA are coming. And they and also Philby’s wife Eleanor would ask questions if Elliott did not show up. And when Elliott claims nobody knows he is in Beirut…

“Don’t be absurd. This is Beirut.”

Philby may have a point there. Beirut being a spy hub in the 1960s,  intelligence agencies and people who are connected to them should know Elliott is in town.

But why is this exchange in Beirut in Philby’s mind as he wakes up in Moscow? Second thoughts about not having taken Elliott’s offer?

Regardless of his thoughts, Philby gets kasha  (Russian Porridge) for breakfast, receives a winter coat from “Mother Russia” and a word from Sergei that he is becoming a real Russian today!

Note to Sergei: You can get the British boy out of England but you cannot take Britain out of him! Comrade Philby misses “the little things”: marmalade, cigarettes and The Times crosswords! 🙂 It goes without saying that he misses these “little things” in a country where there are long lines for the essentials which he certainly notices as driven to the passport office.

MI5 gets word that the Americans are now involved in the Philby business. A man called Michael Whitney Straight just came to the FBI Field Office in Cincinnati to confess he was recruited by the Russian Intelligence Service while in Cambridge in 1930s. He claims though that he terminated all contact with them in November 1945.

MI5 also knows that a telex with this information has arrived at a basement around the corner from Elliott’s house! Americans know Philby gave Elliott something in Beirut and MI5 has to find out about it before the Americans do.

As he uses his Muslim prayer beads to relieve stress over breakfast, Elliott remembers his finest hour in the profession.

Elliott’s mission is to help Erich Vermehren, an Abwehr (German military intelligence organization) officer, and his wife defect to Britain in the middle of the war. The operation is set up to look like the British Secret Service is kidnapping Vermehren at gun point in an Istanbul night club. And Elliott and Elizabeth are able to smuggle the couple out of Turkey and into the UK.

And may I just say I LOVE the following post from actor Tom Radisch, who portrays Vermehren in the mini-series! Here’s Radisch, actress Yasemin Ozdemir who plays Vermehren’s wife, and Damian on set in Bucharest!

And here is Damian talking about Bucharest as a fantastic location for filming:

“I’d never been. And Bucharest is sort of what you’d expect: It’s a conflation of brutalist Soviet-era buildings and some beautiful sort of 17th century Baroque buildings.

“Bucharest actually ended up being our location for four very, very different cities and countries – for Moscow, Berlin, Istanbul, and Beirut – and you are able to film all those places in Bucharest. So, quick advert for the Romanian Film Board! It’s a good place to go, and we had a ball.”

Damian, Alex Cary and maybe (because it’s a back view) Nick Murphy on ‘A Spy Among Friends’ set in Romania

Back to the episode…

Elliott asks Elizabeth over breakfast whether her friend Suzie who works at the Buckingham Palace can get them into a private viewing at the Queen’s Gallery that afternoon. Elizabeth wants to know what is going on because Elliott is not into private viewings, but he hushes her up since Angleton is listening. So what Angleton hears next is…

“More toast?”

😀

As he is waiting for his turn at the passport office, Philby still has Elliott’s voice in his ears.

“You may have well managed to convince yourself  that you betrayed your country, your friends, your family  in the service of a principle – a core belief in a greater good or some such rubbish, but deep down, Kim, deep down, I know  you know you’re wrong.”

And as magical reality kicks in, Elliott is the last person Philby at the passport office before going ahead with becoming a Russian citizen.

Lily receives a file about Angleton and notices the name of the poet Ezra Pound in there. This reminds her of hearing Philby recite a poem on the Beirut  tapes.

A master of men was the Goodly Fere,
A mate of the wind and sea,
If they think they ha’ slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.

Voila!

It is Ezra Pound’s Ballad of the Goodly Fere

And, guess what, Angleton, sitting in his underwear in his basement, is sending this very poem to his people in Moscow to pass it on to Philby. WTF?

Elizabeth’s friend Suzie has been able to arrange the private view at Queen’s Gallery. Elliott is hanging out with a drink at hand and  the first person he talks to is the Secretary of War John Profumo of the famous Profumo Affair. You may know about him or the affair if you know British history or if  you saw The Crown!

And as some people need to pull some strings to get into a private viewing at the Queen’s Gallery whereas some others just use the trademans’ entrance 🙂 Lily is here to ask Elliott about James Jesus Angleton.

“I believe he dropped the Jesus.”

😀

Angleton was always much more a friend of Philby’s than of Elliott’s – which makes sense since Philby was the MI6 chief in Washington D.C. between 1949 and 1951.

In Cincinnati, the FBI shows pictures to Straight and asks him to name his comrades! And Elliott’s photo is the first one they show him?!?!  WTF?!?! But Straight makes it clear that he has only one name and that name is not in any of the photographs they showed him.

Elizabeth arrives fashionably late at the Queen’s Gallery and meets Lily.  Elliott then introduces Lily to Sir Anthony Blunt, the surveyor of the Queen’s pictures, as a lady from Newcastle (“Durham”) and from Blunt’s old mob (“MI5”). You may also know about Sir Anthony Blunt if you know British history or if you saw The Crown🙂

Elliott asks Sir Anthony whether he has a moment to tell them about the new “Vermehren” when he is supposed to ask about the new “Vermeer.” Blunt is obviously appalled and excuses himself as Elliott decides this is quite enough culture for one day. And when Lily asks about Vermehren, his wife responds on  behalf of Elliott:

“He meant Vermeer.”

Well, having a wife from the business has its pros, doesn’t it? But it also has its cons:  Elizabeth interrogates Elliott over dinner 🙂 She was Elliott’s secretary for two years before they got married and she was involved in the Vermehren incident. And she is convinced that Elliott wanted to go to the private view just to name drop “Vermehren” with Blunt.

This elegant dinner scene was shot at Grumbles – a long-standing Bistro in Pimlico.

“Whatever Kim told you in Beirut is true, isn’t it?”

“If it’s not, I’m a goner.”

Elliott gives in to Elizabeth. Everything now depends on what Blunt does next.

Now that he is a “Real Russian”Sergei takes Philby to the Kremlin Square in the evening  and presents him with the Order of the Red Banner for his services to Russian people. But this also means Philby’s days as a spy are over, doesn’t it?

Then they go to a dark and shabby cafe for drinks. As Philby is sitting alone at the table examining his Order of the Red Banner, Angleton’s guy in Moscow approaches him to ask for a light, and realizing he is also out of cigarettes, a cigarette, too. He leaves his empty cigarette box on the table, takes his jacket and leaves.

Philby now remembers the good old days where he and Elliott have “belly laughs” about a silly story from Philby’s mom and when Sergei comes back to the table Philby says he was thinking about his mom. Oh, and we see that the ashtray is empty so Philby has already pocketed the empty cigarette box. Is it some kind of spy instinct or is Philby expecting someone to approach him?

When they come home late at night, both Sergei and Philby seem to be very drunk. However, as he gets into his room, Philby gets the poem, and he shows his light through the window to confirm that he received the message. He remembers a walk with Angleton where he gives him Selected Poems of Ezra Pound in which he had the very poem he recited in Beirut encrypted. And he tells Angleton that this is for when they could only afford  to trust each other.

OH. MY. GOD.

Angleton has probably “received the message” when he got a hold of the Beirut tapes, and he has used the same poem in a message to Philby  in Moscow because he believes Philby went to the dark side as his man! And, accordingly, Philby has been expecting someone to approach him on behalf of Angleton so no wonder he pocketed the cigarette box in no time!

Lily’s evening is as exciting as that of Philby’s. Her first stop is THE basement around the corner from Elliott’s house! Lily pays Angleton a visit  to let him know that she knows he is up to something:)

And her next stop is Elliott’s house. And the words she has for Elliott, who comes to door in his robe de chambre to say this is neither the time nor the place for them to talk, could be my favorite lines in the entire show!

“My husband, he’s a man who works incredibly hard, day in and day out… No, this’ll only take a minute. ..doing everything he can to make people’s lives better, while I stand here, trying to nail down what on earth it is that you chaps have been playing at for 20 years. And when I get home tonight, because he knows that I’m not allowed to talk about my work, he’ll pretend to be asleep to make my life easier. So do you know what? I couldn’t care less about the time and the place.”

Elliott takes Lily to a little shed next to the house shattering Angleton’s dreams of listening to their conversation. I am sure Elliott is having  the time of  his life by first letting Angleton into the conversation when Lily arrives at his house and then cutting him off as Angleton whets his appetite 🙂

 

Before giving Lily a chance to ask about Vermehren, Elliott tells her that his wife is wondering if Lily is a friend or a foe. What a coincidence! MI5 is wondering the exact same thing about Elliott 🙂 And I learn a new idiom as Elliott and Lily clink their whiskey glasses.

“Mud in your eye.”

And Vermehren… He was a devout Catholic that became an Abwehr officer only to fight the Nazis from within. According  to Elliott, even though he put in a lot effort to get Vermehren to defect to England, it was Philby’s innate ability to make friends with anyone that really let Vermehren give them the identities of hundreds of Abwehr officers and their sources across Europe, changing the course of the war in favor of the Allies.

All Vermehren asked in return was for the Brits to help his friends in German Resistance. They were mostly Catholics who were anti-Nazi and anti-Communist. And the Brits did what they could do with intelligence, weapons drop and radio equipment.

When Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin agreed how to divide and control different sections of Germany after the war, the Catholic resistance wanted to go to the British sector… so  the  bus we saw at the beginning of the episode… families, little children… The Soviets killed them all.

Elliott: “That’s who Vermehren is. Only I, and now you, know anything about what I’ve just told you.

Lily: And the Russians.

Elliott: And the Russians.

Lily: And Sir Anthony Blunt. That’s what that was about. He knows about Vermehren because he works for the Russians.

Lily has it now. It is Sir Antony Blunt that Philby gave Elliott in Beirut. If he did not work with the Russians, how could Blunt know about Vermehren at all?

What Elliott and Lily don’t know at the moment though is that Michael Whitney Straight has signed the immunity papers in return for giving the FBI a name: Sir Anthony Blunt. And a guy from the American Embassy delivers an envelope to Angleton in the wee hours…

In parallel, Angleton’s people in Moscow are overexcited to receive a Morse code with light from Philby which they pass it on to Angleton immediately.

“The hounds… of the… crimson… sky… gave… tongue. But… never… a cry… cried he.”

Lo and behold, Philby and Angleton are connected. What’s next?

Episode 4: Vodka

Author: Damianista

Academic, Traveler, Blogger, Runner, Theatre Lover, Wine Snob, Part-time New Yorker, and Walking Damian Lewis Encyclopedia :D Procrastinated about a fan's diary on Damian Lewis for a while and the rest is history!

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