UK Script Consultant looks back on Eye of the Needle (1981)

As the hardest working online script writer for hire and UK script consultant, like everyone else I’ve been binging Netflix during the lockdown. 

Politicians, pundits and even Royalty keep using war type terms or WW2 references to describe the current Covid 19 virus pandemic.  I find this a bit irritating, but it has reminded me to catch up with a film about a real war – Eye of the Needle from 1981.

‘Eye of the Needle’ is an old fashioned war time spy film, it’s a fine suspensor and genuinely rousing pot boiler – there’s even a twisted love story in there somewhere.  It reminded me on first viewing of another classic (Day of The Jackal) in the way the plot and suspense develop, as we watch the work of an outsider, and bad man.  

However, it’s easy to identify (and almost route for) with Edward Fox’s ‘The Jackal’ – it’s a lot harder to feel anything for Donald Sutherland’s lead character in this film, but we do feel for the woman who falls for him, by accident.

The film takes a couple of minutes to get going and setup the plot, once it does, the film’s pacing is fantastic, the location photography is wondrous, Sutherland himself has never been better, and the rest of the cast is filled out with Ian Bannen (always brilliant) and look out for Rick Mayall and a very young Bill Nighy in small roles.

The love interest, and love triangle is filled out with Christopher Cazenove (very good) and Kate Nelligan – who steals the film from everyone.  The relationship that develops between Suntherland and Nelligan’s characters is the true dark heart of the film and is very well done.

Director Richard Marquand does his best work, the film is brilliantly directed in parts, and on the newly released Blu-Ray it looks fabulous. It’s a War film set at home, without battle scenes, but as Sutherlands’ character points out to Nelligan;  “The war has come down to me and you”.

‘Eye of the Needle’ has been overlooked for years, and it’s a film with a rising reputation – a true forgotten gem.  It’s a prime example of good storytelling, and deft characterisation.  See it.

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire, UK Script editor  and script doctor for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant and freelance script writer for hire and online screenwriting expert. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on or hire him on Peopleperhour

His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller Markham will be released in 2020.