Tracking Edith

 

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A filmmaker uncovers all that he can about the truly extraordinary life of his great aunt.

 
Tracking Edith

  

Edith Tudor-Hart was an Austrian Jew who was born in Vienna in 1908 but, having made England her home, she would die at the age of sixty-five in Brighton. Her maiden name was Suschitzky and her brother Wolfgang was the great film photographer who, like his sister, settled in England. He is seen here talking   about her when he was already a centenarian (he died in October 2016 aged 104) and her own talent as a photographer is celebrated in this film. She used an old-fashioned camera that enabled her to have eye-to-eye contact with her subjects and her black and white images are seen here to have exceptional quality.

 

Had her photographic work been the central feature of Edith's life, it would have been natural for the filmmaker here, Peter Stephan Jungk, to follow up his book about her with this documentary feature because Edith was his great aunt. But the fact is that Edith Tudor-Hart led a double life. Her own fervent belief in Communism as a righteous cause had never been hidden, but it was not until twenty years after her death that it emerged that this woman who had never visited Russia had been a secret agent for the KGB.

 

Consequently Tracking Edith features interview material not only with the art historian Duncan Forbes but with that expert on the world of spies Nigel West and with the ex-KGB agent Alexander Vassiliev (indeed there's even one sequence in which Jungk intercuts the views of West and Vassiliev on the character trends to be found in spies). This film looks back over the whole of Edith's life, touches on her ill-starred love affairs and reveals how she was recruited as a spy by one of the men to whom she was attracted, Arnold Deutsch.

 

This makes for a fascinating story and it's not one that lacks cohesion because many of her photographs express a social concern that matches up with her belief in the idealism behind Communism. What adds to the impact of the film is the revelation of how key a role Edith Tudor-Hart would play when acting as a secret agent: she was friendly with Litzy Friedman who would marry Kim Philby, had close connections with the men who would become known as the Cambridge Five and, linked also to atomic espionage, would even be described by Anthony Blunt as the grandmother of us all.

 

In portraying his great aunt on film, Jungk on occasion makes imaginative use of black-and-white animation to reconstruct dramatic moments in her life but, in showing his own quest to unearth more information, he does spend rather a long time on his visit to Moscow that got him nowhere. Although Edith may have always acted in accordance with her own ideals, one can't help wondering if what is revealed is not something that the Suschitzky family despite their participation might well have preferred not to have exposed. That thought somewhat colours one's response to this documentary. But, whatever was driving Jungk here, he has given us a film which tells a story that is never less than intriguing.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Peter Stephan Jungk, Wolfgang Suschitzky, Nigel West, Alexander Vassiliev, Misha Donat, Duncan Forbes, Irina Sherbakova, Peter Suschitzky, Barbara Honigmann.

 

Dir Peter Stephan Jungk, Pro Lilian Birnbaum, Screenplay Peter Stephan Jungk, from his book Dunkelkammern der Edith Tudor-Hart, Ph Jerzy Palacz, Ed Bettina Mazakarini, Music Rupert Huber, Animation Dir Benjamin Swiczinsky.

 

Peartree Entertainment/ORF Film/Fernseh-Abkommen-Contemporary Films.
92 mins. Austria. 2016. Rel: 27 July 2018. Cert. PG.