Hidden Agenda (1990 film)

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Hidden Agenda
Hidden agenda ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ken Loach
Produced by Eric Fellner
Written by Jim Allen
Music by Stewart Copeland
Cinematography Clive Tickner
Edited by Jonathan Morris
Distributed by Hemdale Film Corporation
Release date
  • 21 November 1990 (1990-11-21)
Running time
108 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Hidden Agenda (1990), directed by Ken Loach, is a political thriller about British state terrorism during the Northern Irish Troubles that depicts the fictional assassination of an American civil rights lawyer.


The film opens with an Orange walk on The Twelfth, and a tape being handed to an American human rights activist, which becomes his death warrant. It begins with a quote from Margaret Thatcher insisting that Northern Ireland is part of Britain. It ends with one from a former British intelligence agent, stating, "There are two laws running this country: one for the security forces and the other for the rest of us." [1]

Investigator Peter Kerrigan (Cox), assisted by Ingrid Jessner (McDormand), investigates the killing of Paul Sullivan (Dourif), an American civil rights lawyer and political activist in Northern Ireland, whilst he was accompanied by a Provisional IRA sympathiser. The investigation reveals that the two men were shot without warning. A mysterious tape recording surfaces, made by a Captain Harris, an ex-army intelligence officer, now in hiding, of senior military leaders and Conservative Party politicians discussing how they arranged the rise to power of Margaret Thatcher. Eventually, Harris gives a copy of the tape to Jessner, but British security forces kill Harris, and blame his death on the IRA. Kerrigan is blackmailed into silence about the conspiracy. Jessner still has the tape, but without Harris to authenticate it, the recording can be dismissed as a forgery.



The production was originally set up at Columbia Pictures in 1987, when David Puttnam ran the studio. After Puttnam was ousted, Loach had to find new financial backing, and eventually found it with John Daly who ran Hemdale Film Corporation.[2]


Critical response[edit]

Hidden Agenda was praised for its honesty and complexity,[3] as well as its resonance.[1] It was criticised for a simplistic view of the Northern Ireland Troubles as an anti-colonial war[citation needed] and for portraying the Troubles as an adjunct to British rather than Irish politics.[4]

Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected 18 reviews and gave the film a score of 83%.[5]


Hidden Agenda won the Jury Prize at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival[6] and was nominated for Best European Film at the Goya Awards. At the Festival press conference, the Northern Irish critic Alexander Walker publicly denounced the film as IRA propaganda.[7]


  1. ^ a b James, Caryn (21 November 1990). "Review/Film; Seeking Truths in Northern Ireland". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 August 2016. 
  2. ^ Gritten, David (1 January 1991). "Ken Loach's Agenda Is to Rile the British Establishment : Movies: The activist director, relatively inactive during the Thatcher years, tackles the issue of Northern Ireland in 'Hidden Agenda.'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 August 2016. 
  3. ^ Hinson, Hal (11 January 1991). "Hidden Agenda". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 August 2016. 
  4. ^ McIlroy, Brian (1998). Shooting to Kill: Filmmaking and the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland. Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Flicks Books. pp. 93–95, 97–98. ISBN 978-0-94891-152-1. 
  5. ^ "Hidden Agenda". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 14 August 2016. 
  6. ^ "Hidden Agenda". Festival de Cannes. Archived from the original on 6 November 2012. Retrieved 14 August 2016. 
  7. ^ Walker, Alexander (2004). Icons in the Fire. London: Orion. pp. 131–132. ISBN 978-0-75285-610-0. 

External links[edit]