An absorbing movie based on shocking real-life events
Several months ago, I discovered a great new investment opportunity involving Bitcoin. I received a phone call from somebody who promised to change my life and my financial situation, as long as I handed my bank details over to them. Of course, it was a scam caller, one of many who ring my number on a regular basis and as is the case with most of them, I decided to have a little fun with the person on the phone.
When she asked me what I did for a living, I told her I wasn’t allowed to say. “Ooh sounds mysterious” she replied, to which I said, “If I told you what I did, both of our lives would be put at risk.”
“Are you a spy or something?” she asked, insistent on an answer despite my previous warning. To which I replied “People are listening to this phone call. I would advise you to hang up immediately.” Sensibly she did (even though I was lying to her) and once again, I congratulated myself on wasting the time of another scammer.
Why am I telling you this story? Well, while watching Rogue Agent, I was reminded of my deliberate ploy to trick the woman on the phone into thinking that I was some kind of spy. Of course, I’m not anything of the sort and in the context of this review, neither was Robert Hendy-Freegard, the protagonist of the movie (which is based on a true story), who tricked both men and women into believing he was some kind of secret agent.
In reality, he was a barman and car salesman who falsely recruited others to MI5 as a means of conning them out of the large sums of money they had access to (usually from their parents). In this regard, he had much in common with the thousands of scam callers who plague us every year, as well as the fake persona that I created when trying to wind up one particular scammer.
Freegard is somebody you have probably heard of before as he was the subject of the Netflix documentary The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman. The doc highlighted his crimes and manipulation of others and made for an interesting but rather uncomfortable watch. In Rogue Agent, Freegard is played by James Norton, an actor who has both the looks and the charm to be a spy (the next Jame Bond, anyone?) so his casting as the false agent is inspired.
In their telling of the story, writer-directors Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson showcase key moments from Freegard’s past, including that involving three students who were tricked into becoming trainee spies after the conman ‘recruited’ them into a fake mission involving an alleged IRA cell at their college. The movie weaves various aspects of this particular tale into the central story which focuses on the relationship Freegard had with successful young lawyer Alice Archer (Gemma Arterton), the woman who (in the film at least) is the catalyst for his eventual undoing.
In reality, Freegard was brought down by an American child psychologist called Kim Adams and not Archer, who seems to be a fictionalized version of the woman who eventually vanquished him. But even if the central relationship between Freegard and Archer isn’t entirely true, it still makes for a gripping story. We watch as he begins to lure her in with another of his spy claims (never trust a car salesman), and then witness her attempts to plot against him with the help of a police officer and the eventual support of the FBI.
As the story unfolds, it is clear that Freegard’s attempts to fleece money from his unsuspecting victims isn’t his biggest offence. The true horror is the fact that the people he took under his wing became mentally damaged because of his actions. They were alienated from their family and friends and tricked into thinking they were fighting for a larger cause when in reality, they were simply being robbed by a conniving conman. It’s difficult to understand why Freegard acted in such a way – the movie doesn’t delve too far into his backstory – so perhaps we are just meant to accept that he was a sociopath who had little regard for the feelings and emotions of the people whose lives he destroyed.
Norton is very convincing as the fake spy, showing both the charming and the sinister sides of his character as he manipulates his victims into doing his bidding. Arterton is good value too as Freegard’s latest target, ably showing both the fragile and resilient side of her character. Watching the two of them interact on screen is a joy as it’s clear that Archer isn’t just another of Freegard’s victims. She is somebody that is wiser, stronger, and more clued in to his schemes than the other people who regrettably fell prey to his charms and lies.
The movie is suspenseful and gripping but it plays out more like a TV drama than a piece of cinema. It’s little wonder then that this is debuting on Netflix in the UK and AMC+ in the US as it may have disappointed cinema audiences expecting greater spectacle and grander directorial flourishes. This isn’t to say the movie isn’t well made, however, as everything slots well together, from the acting to the dark tone to the various twists and turns that make up the narrative’s plotting.
Rogue Agent is mostly an engaging watch, more so because of the incredible nature of the true story it is based on. The acting of the two main stars does much to lure us into this chilling tale as does the screenplay, which manages to keep us on our toes throughout. As such, this is well worth your time and can be especially recommended if you enjoyed the documentary which delved further into Freegard’s life and manipulations.
Be warned: Robert Hendy-Freegard is a free man so if anybody sidles up to you at your local bar claiming to be a secret agent, you should tell him where to stick his MI5 ‘credentials.’ You should do similar to any call centre scam artist who promises to make you rich or who tells you that you are owed a refund as, like Freegard and swindlers like him, they should never ever be trusted.
Read More: Rogue Agent Ending Explained
Verdict - 7/10