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The Fourth Protocol (film)

The Fourth Protocol
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Mackenzie
Produced by Timothy Burrill
Screenplay by
Story by Frederick Forsyth
Music by Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography Phil Meheux
Edited by Graham Walker
Distributed by Lorimar Motion Pictures
Release dates
  • 28 August 1987 (1987-08-28)
Running time
119 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £7 million[1]
Box office $12,423,831

The Fourth Protocol is a 1987 British Cold War spy film featuring Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan, based on the novel The Fourth Protocol by Frederick Forsyth.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Locations 4
  • Differences from the Novel 5
  • Reception 6
    • Box office 6.1
    • Critical response 6.2
  • References 7
  • External links 8


In 1968 the East-West agreement is established to halt nuclear proliferation. One of the clauses, the Fourth Protocol, forbids the non-conventional delivery of a nuclear weapon to a target.

Anton Rodgers) on New Year's Eve and finds a number of top secret NATO files that should not have been there. He reports his findings to high-ranking British Secret Service official Sir Nigel Irvine (Ian Richardson), who deals with the leak. Preston's unauthorised method of retrieving the documents embarrasses the acting-Director of MI5, Brian Harcourt-Smith (Julian Glover), and as punishment for his insubordination, Preston is relegated to lowly "Airports and Ports".

KGB officer Major Valeri Petrofsky (Pierce Brosnan) is sent on a mission to the United Kingdom by General Govershin (Alan North), the head of the KGB. Govershin's subordinate, Borisov (Ned Beatty), complains to his old friend General Karpov (Ray McAnally), about his espionage department being stripped of resources and personnel, particularly his star officer Petrofsky. A surprised Karpov quietly investigates and learns about Petrofsky's unsanctioned mission – to violate the Fourth Protocol by assembling and detonating an atomic device so that it will appear to be a nuclear accident at a nearby military base. It is intended to strain British-US relations and strengthen the anti-nuclear movement in advance of an election in favour of the Soviet Union.

In Glasgow, a Soviet sailor is struck by a truck while fleeing from a port guard. Among the dead man's possessions, Preston finds a disk of polonium, which could only be useful as a component of a detonator for a bomb. He informs Harcourt-Smith, but is promptly suspended, as Harcourt-Smith believes that Preston is manufacturing a fake incident to work his way back into MI5. Luckily Preston has the confidence of Sir Bernard Hemmings (Michael Gough), the gravely-ill Director of MI5, as well as Irvine, who is happy to sidestep Harcourt-Smith's directives. Preston sets to work and eventually comes across Winkler (Jiri Stanislav), a known Czech KGB agent, and tails him from the airport.

Meanwhile, Petrofsky meets another KGB agent, Irina Vassilievna (Joanna Cassidy), a bomb expert who is pretending to be his wife. Under her guidance, they assemble the device from seemingly-harmless items and she sets it on a two-hour delay per their instructions. Unbeknownst to Petrofsky, Vassilievna follows her own orders, resetting the delay to zero. After sleeping with Petrofsky, she finds his own secret order to eliminate her and tries to warn him about the double-cross, but he kills her before she can.

Afterwards, Petrofsky is observed contacting Winkler. Preston tracks him to Ipswich, loses him, then finds him again. Preston eventually realises that Petrofsky's target is RAF Baywaters, and locates Petrofsky's house, which lies right next to the base.

When Petrofsky starts to activate the bomb, on an impulse, he checks the timer first and realises he has been betrayed. At that moment, an SAS team storms the house and during a struggle, Preston subdues and disables Petrofsky. To Preston's outrage, one of the SAS team cold-bloodedly executes Petrofsky, explaining afterwards that he had orders to do so.

At Hemming's funeral, Preston is unsurprised to find Irvine secretly meeting with General Karpov. Preston had become suspicious when known KGB agent Winkler was used as a courier, making it easy to follow him, and also when Petrofsky was killed instead of being captured for questioning. He surmised that discrediting Govershin would benefit both Irvine and Karpov. Preston does not see any point in exposing them and leaves after expressing his contempt for their cynical power play.



Michael Caine read the draft manuscript of the novel and suggested to Forsyth that they produce a film together. They hired John Frankenheimer to direct but were unable to raise finance. Axelrod and Frankenheimer left the project, Forsyth wrote the script himself and they got a new producer and director.[1]


Much of the film was shot in the Heelands district of Milton Keynes, notably the A-frame house from the film Homeworld 81. Scenes set on the London Underground were shot at Charing Cross, Green Park, and Aldwych stations. For some of the interiors, rooms of King's College London on the Strand were used. The "RAF Baywaters" scenes were filmed at the now defunct RAF Upper Heyford as a take on the real life RAF Bentwaters. Filming also took place in Finland. Towards the end of the film, the car chase in Ipswich is actually shot in Chelmsford on the A1016 Chelmer Valley bypass which at the time was newly built. One shot shows helicopters flying under the Orwell Bridge which is often considered a local landmark.

Eastbourne Mews, W2, was used as the filming location for John Preston's (Michael Caine) house.[2]

Differences from the Novel

  • The film opens with the killing of Kim Philby, who has already planned the operation, because he knows too much. In the book he remains a key figure.
  • The film begins with Preston breaking into Berenson's house to expose him as a traitor. In the novel, the character of Jim Rawlings, a professional thief, robs Berenson's house and unintentionally discovers the stolen documents, sending them anonymously to MI5 so that they might find the traitor.
  • The political plot of the book to allow the Labour Party to win the general election and allow for a Communist take over the party is taken out.
  • The film removes a large section of the book in regards to John Preston's investigation into Jan Marais in South Africa.
  • Some of the locations are changed from the book. The Greek cafe is in Chesterfield, not Colchester, and Petrosfy's house is in Ipswich not directly next to the air base.
  • The airbase in the book is the real base of "Bentwaters" which is changed to "Baywaters" in the film.
  • The character of the assembler in the book is a man although the surname is the same. He is killed by getting his neck broken rather than being shot.


Box office

The film debuted at no. 4 at the box office with $3.6 million in ticket sales.[3]

Critical response

Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively gave the film a score of 71% based on reviews from 17 critics.[4]

Jay Scott, film critic for The Globe and Mail said that "the movie is entertaining on a rudimentary, never-to-be-taken-seriously level. On the rare occasions when it does rise above the material, it's because Pierce Brosnan is chillingly effective as an assassin with the body temperature of a snake. The yarn is otherwise little more than Mission Impossible tightly re-wound for the age of glasnost." Scott praised Michael Caine's excellent performance, but complained that the "role permits him to display only one of the three dimensions he was able to provide in his portrayal of the father in The Whistleblower."[5]


  1. ^ a b Forsyth, Frederick. "A shy spymaster who likes to hide behind protocol." Sunday Times [London, England] 22 Mar. 1987: 10. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.
  2. ^ Mews News. Lurot Brand. Published Spring 2010. Retrieved 20 September 2013.
  3. ^ "Stakeout' Ranks No. 1 in Box-Office Sales".  
  4. ^
  5. ^  

External links

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