British Agent

British Agent is a 1934 American espionage film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Leslie Howard and Kay Francis. It is based on Memoirs of a British Agent, the 1932 autobiography of R. H. Bruce Lockhart, who had spent a number of years working for the British Secret Service during the Russian Revolution. The film was produced by First National, which was then a division of Warner Bros..

British Agent
Poster of British Agent
Directed byMichael Curtiz
Written byLaird Doyle
R. H. Bruce Lockhart
StarringLeslie Howard
Kay Francis
William Gargan
Cesar Romero
Music byBernhard Kaun
Heinz Roemheld
CinematographyErnest Haller
Edited byThomas Richards
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • September 15, 1934 (1934-09-15)
Running time
81 minutes
CountryUnited States


At one point the studio considered the possibility of shooting some scenes on location in the Soviet Union, but the political situation there made this impossible. Instead the film was shot at the studio in Hollywood with sets designed by the art director Anton Grot. Thanks to a comparatively large budget of $475,000, 41 different sets were used to recreate Imperial Russia and the early years of the Revolution.

The same book was partly used as an inspiration for the television series Reilly, Ace of Spies which also portrays the adventures of Lockhart and Sidney Reilly during their years in Moscow around the time of the Russian Revolution.


In the days leading up to the Russian Revolution, Stephen Locke (Leslie Howard), a minor British diplomat, watches rioting in the streets. Revolutionary Elena Moura (Kay Francis) shoots it out with a Cossack soldier; when she retreats onto the grounds of the consulate, the soldier follows, forcing Stephen to intervene to protect British extraterritoriality. After the Cossack leaves, Elena emerges; she and Steven are attracted to each other, but their politics clash. Elena departs.

After the Russian Empire is overthrown and the Soviet Union is born, most of the Western diplomats evacuate. Stephen is left behind with just a servant, "Poohbah" Evans. Day after day, he waits with mounting frustration for instructions, passing the time with others in the same situation, American Bob Medill (William Gargan), Gaston LeFarge (Phillip Reed) and Tito Del Val (Cesar Romero).

His boredom is lifted when he meets Elena again. She is now an important member of the government, working for Commissioner of War Trotsky (J. Carrol Naish). He romances her, and they quickly fall in love.

However, her first loyalty is to her country. She demonstrates this when Stephen finally receives orders from England. He is to try to prevent the Soviet Union from concluding a separate peace with Imperial Germany, which would free up large numbers of German soldiers for the Western Front; however, he is warned that he is only an "unofficial" British representative. Stephen carelessly reads the message in Elena's hearing. She passes along the information to her boss. As a result, when Stephen pleads with the Soviet government in Moscow to keep fighting, his arguments are undercut by their awareness of his status. He manages to get a delay of three weeks, to see if he can persuade his superiors to agree to Soviet demands: £50 million, five army divisions and munitions. Instead, without Stephen's knowledge, the British send a force to Archangel to fight alongside the internal enemies of the Soviets.

After the Czar is executed, Medill, LeFarge and Del Val persuade Stephen to join them in supporting counterrevolutionary forces. When Lenin is seriously wounded in an assassination attempt, the Soviets initiate a harsh crackdown. LeFarge and Del Val are killed while attempting to contact a rebel military leader in the city. Medill tries to do the same, but is caught and tortured for Stephen's whereabouts. When he refuses to crack, he is sentenced to die by firing squad the next day.

Elena is ordered to persuade him to tell her where Stephen is; knowing she is in love with Stephen, Medill gives her the address. She reluctantly gives the information to Trotsky, who orders soldiers to level the building. Elena sneaks into the building, determined to die with Stephen. They are reprieved, however. Just as the soldiers start shooting, news arrives that Lenin will recover, and that he has ordered the release of all political prisoners. Later, Stephen and Elena depart for England; at the train station, Medill requests they send him a supply of bubble gum.



  1. Alan K. Rode. Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film. University Press of Kentucky, 2017
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