Defence of the Realm

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Defence of the Realm
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Drury
Produced by Robin Douet
Lynda Myles
Written by Martin Stellman
Music by Richard Harvey
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Edited by Michael Bradsell
Distributed by Hemdale Film Corporation
Release date
  • 1 January 1986 (1986-01-01)
Running time
96 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $750,000[1]

Defence of the Realm (US title Defense of the Realm) is a 1986 British political thriller film directed by David Drury, starring Gabriel Byrne, Greta Scacchi, and Denholm Elliott, with Robbie Coltrane in a supporting role.

The film takes its title from the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act (DORA), passed in the United Kingdom at the start of the First World War, which gave the Government executive powers, for as long as war should continue, to suppress public criticism, imprison people without trial, and commandeer economic resources for the war effort.


Following a crash of a nuclear bomber at an American Air Force base in the English countryside, Dennis Markham (Ian Bannen), a prominent Member of Parliament and opponent of the American nuclear presence in the United Kingdom, is reported by a London paper to have been seen leaving a woman's home. When the woman is found to also be familiar with a dignitary from East Germany, Markham's loyalty to his country is questioned. He is hounded by the media and is forced to resign.

The author of the newspaper exposé, Nick Mullen (Gabriel Byrne), continues his work with colleague Vernon Bayliss (Denholm Elliott) who suspects that Markham is being framed for his views. When Bayliss dies from a mysterious 'heart attack', Mullen suspects something deeper at work and finds evidence of a cover-up concerning a near-accident at a nuclear site and a secret US Air Force base. With the help of Markham's secretary, Nina Beckman (Greta Scacchi), Mullen continues to investigate the affair despite the attempts of the British Government to stop him. In the end, Mullen and Beckman are seemingly killed in an explosion, but Mullen's story about the cover-up is published.


Halliwell's Film Guide described it as an "efficient political melodrama, basically too old-fashioned to start a cult."[2] Denholm Elliott's performance has been singled out for particular praise. Roger Ebert wrote: "The acting is strong throughout, but Elliott is especially effective. What is it about this actor, who has been in so many different kinds of movies and seems to make each role special? Here he is needed to suggest integrity and scruples, and does it almost simply by the way he looks...Defense of the Realm ends on a bleak and cynical note - unless you count the somewhat contrived epilogue - and gets there with intelligence and a sharp, bitter edge."[3] Radio Times gives the film four stars out of five, claiming: "The role of the sozzled veteran reporter who for once finds himself involved in a meaningful story is brought wonderfully to life by Denholm Elliott...Gabriel Byrne, as Elliott's ambitious young colleague, is less effective, but the film has plenty of tension and co-star Greta Scacchi proves a worthy accomplice."[4]



  • Denholm Elliott won a BAFTA for best supporting actor.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Halliwell's Film Guide, 13th edition - ISBN 0-00-638868-X.
  3. ^ "Defense of the Realm". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  4. ^ "Defence of the Realm". Radio Times. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 

External links[edit]