This John le Carré story – set during the Cold War – begins with British Intelligence receiving a blurred photograph from East Germany which Director Leclerc (Ralph Richardson) believes to be Soviet missiles being installed close to the border with the west.
Meanwhile, British agent and courier, Taylor King (Timothy West) receives a further roll of microfilm from a Finnish pilot and is subsequently found dead at the side of a deserted snow-bound highway, apparently killed in a hit-and-run “accident”.
Ill-tempered German-speaking Polish defector Fred Leiser (Christopher Jones) is reluctantly recruited to cross the border to East Germany to spy on the missiles, in return for being granted the political asylum he seeks and allowed to live happily ever after with his English girlfriend.
The Pole is trained for the mission – primarily by agent John Avery (Anthony Hopkins) – including how to differentiate the subtle difference between the sound of a gun being cocked and a door clicking shut, as his mentors bicker over the advisability of arming their new recruit (“That’s an act of war”).
Escaping briefly from his training, Leiser visits the girlfriend he loves not for herself but for the baby she is carrying, only to find that she has thoughtfully provided herself with an abortion.
Leiser is codenamed “Mayfly” and deployed into East Germany where he meets up with local girl Anna (Pia Degermark), falls in love with her, and decides to flee from all the espionage with her – while the expert ruthless old men use them both as decoys.
Despite some pretty good performances by some of the lead actors, The Looking Glass War is dull, lacks momentum or suspense, and the characters are all largely unsympathetic.
Christopher Jones’ voice was dubbed in the movie.
Anna (“The Girl”)
Leiser’s pregnant girlfriend in London
Under Secretary Of State
East German Detective
Frank R. Pierson