The Human Factor (1979 film)

The Human Factor is a 1979 British thriller film directed by Otto Preminger and starring Richard Attenborough, Nicol Williamson, Derek Jacobi and John Gielgud. It is based on the 1978 novel The Human Factor by Graham Greene, with the screenplay written by Tom Stoppard.[2][dead link] It examined British espionage, and the West's relationship with apartheid South Africa.

The Human Factor
Theatrical release poster by Saul Bass
Directed byOtto Preminger
Written byGraham Greene
Tom Stoppard
Based onThe Human Factor
by Graham Greene
StarringRichard Attenborough
Derek Jacobi
John Gielgud
Nicol Williamson
Music byRichard Logan
Gary Logan
CinematographyMike Molloy
Edited byRichard Trevor
Sigma Production
Wheel Productions
Distributed byRank Film Distributors (UK)
United Artists (United States/Canada)
Release date
  • 18 December 1979 (1979-12-18)
(Los Angeles)
Running time
115 mins
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$376,050[1]

The film was directed by Otto Preminger, the 38th and final film he directed in his nearly half-century career.


Maurice Castle (Nicol Williamson) is a mid-level bureaucrat in MI6 whose life seems completely without peculiarity, peccadillo, or any quality to suggest he’s anything but a dull bureaucrat, except for the interesting, casually introduced detail that he has an African wife, Sarah (Iman), and son, Sam (Gary Forbes). Meanwhile, the company regime, represented by corpulent, bluffly cheery Dr Percival (Robert Morley), who’s actually an expert in assassinations and biological toxins, and éminence grise, Sir John Hargreaves (Richard Vernon), advise newly appointed security chieftain Daintry (Richard Attenborough), they believe they have a traitor at the MI6 African desk. The duo determine the mole must be quietly killed, rather than be allowed publicity in a trial or a flight to Moscow. They quickly decide the most likely candidate for the traitor is Arthur Davis (Derek Jacobi), Castle’s playboy office partner.

Castle is actually the mole, but the information he leaks is unimportant financial documents. He became involved in leaking to the Soviets when he was an MI6 agent in apartheid South Africa, seven years earlier: he met and fell in love with Sarah; when their affair was discovered by the authorities, Castle was thrown out of the country, and he entrusted smuggling Sarah out of the country to a communist acquaintance. Ever since, he’s been repaying the favor by passing on insignificant data to the Soviets. Castle makes one last informational drop to his communist handlers and is summarily whisked off to Moscow to protect the information network. However, Castle is not a communist sympathizer of any kind. His only interest is in his wife and son, who are left in London — where they remain separated from him.[3]



The film was shot in Kenya and at Shepperton Studios near London as well as on location at Berkhamsted. As with the book, much of the theme about alleged treason and suspicion is based on the defection of Kim Philby, a friend of Graham Greene, to the Soviets. The film also included Iman, who was working as a model before she began to work in films.

Preminger had trouble securing funding for the film and had to partially fund it with his own money.[4] Reportedly, Preminger wanted to cast the novelist Jeffrey Archer in the role played by Nicol Williamson. Archer, much shorter than Iman, failed his audition.[5]


  1. ^ "The Human Factor (1979) - Box Office Mojo".
  2. ^
  3. ^ "The Human Factor (1979)". Retrieved 28 January 2020.
  4. ^ Nat Segaloff, Final Cuts: The Last Films of 50 Great Directors, Bear Manor Media 2013 p 234-235
  5. ^ "Rose Tobias Shaw, casting director - obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 10 November 2015. Retrieved 11 November 2015.

External linksEdit