The Fourth Protocol

The Fourth Protocol

Frederick Forsyth’s The Fourth Protocol (1984) was turned into a movie, starring Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan, only three years after it was published. Given that the film largely follows the plot of the book, I’ll cover both in this review.

In the novel, it is the infamous British defector Kim Philby who helps draw up a Soviet plot to detonate a nuclear weapon in Britain and trigger a Labour victory. A left-wing government (Neil Kinnock had yet to defeat far-left Militant entryists at the time) would — the Russians hoped — withdraw the United Kingdom from NATO, kick the Americans out and give up the country’s nuclear deterrent.

To make it seem like an accident, the Soviets plan to smuggle in the nuclear weapon in stages, assemble it in Britain and detonate it near an American military base. This would violate the fictional Fourth Protocol to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which supposedly banned the non-conventional delivery of nuclear weapons.

The Fourth Protocol

The story follows the efforts of KGB Major Valeri Petrofsky (Brosnan in the movie) to assemble the bomb and MI5 officer John Preston’s (Caine) efforts to stop him. The manhunt is done well in both the book and the movie.

Having read the book first will allow you to appreciate the movie, which simplifies the plot, more, but the latter also stands well on its own.

My only lament is that the movie ends on a different note from the book. In the former, Preston’s boss (played by Ian Richardson of House of Cards fame) and his KGB counterpart are portrayed as scheming careerists. In the book, the spymasters are honorable and team up to defuse a politically motivated conspiracy that could have killed hundreds of thousands and brought East and West to the brink of war.

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