Gemma Arterton and James Norton impress in Rogue Agent, which transcends its ‘based on a true story’ roots
“Ian can I ask you, how did you get away?”
I’m a sucker for machine-generated recommendations (which really are getting eerily good these days) so Netflix throwing me a mere glimpse of Gemma Arterton’s face meant I pressed play on Rogue Agent as soon as I became aware of it. And whilst it’s not exactly the most pulse-quickening of films, it settled down for a lovely Sunday afternoon’s comfy viewing.
Based on the article Chasing Agent Freegard by Michael Bronner, the film is directed by Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn and the three of them have presented a fictionalised version of these true-life events. Not being familiar with the story, this tale of a conman convincing an insane number of people that he was an MI5 agent proves really quite gripping.
James Norton plays Freegard, whose skills of persuasion are quite amazing. From co-opting students into the hunt for IRA plants as a friendly barman to sweet-talking professional women into parting with huge sums as a luxury car salesman, swindling is second nature to him, regardless of the catastrophic human damage he leaves behind him.
Arterton plays Alice, a lawyer who, despite her better instincts finds herself falling for his spaghetti bolognese-making ways and even as she sets her firm’s investigator on him, his silver-tongued slipperiness is a sight to behold. But as the film shifts to her efforts to take him down once he’s executed the con, there’s a steely determination to Arterton’s work which plays to her considerable strengths.
Folding in the experiences of his previous and continuing victims, the film finds effective power in not seeking to explain Freegard as a character, to suggest motivation or heaven forfend his justifications. Performance levels across the board keep us engaged and the requisite captions over the credits have a punishing inevitability.