April 22, 2019  (Web Review)

Tracking Edith

(2017) 92 min. DVD: $24.99. First Run Features (avail. from most distributors).

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Author/filmmaker Peter Stephan Jungk builds upon his 2015 book about his great-aunt Edith Tudor-Hart (1908-1973) in this documentary that deals with her domestic life and career as a noted photographer but particularly concentrates on her activity as a Soviet agent who was instrumental in recruiting Kim Philby and others of the notorious Cambridge Five to work for the U.S.S.R. The film is chockablock with archival material (film footage, stills, posters, and Tudor-Hart’s own photographs), but while it covers a lot of territory—from Edith’s childhood in Vienna and her studies both at the Bauhaus and with Maria Montessori, to her spy activities in England, as well as marriages and affairs and the care of her autistic son—it does so in the form of Jungk’s search for who she really was. That quest entails interviews with numerous people, not just relatives and acquaintances but also historians who have studied Soviet intelligence operations, ex-KGB agents, Russians working to disclose the workings of the old Soviet system, and art experts, as well as failed attempts to gain access to secret Russian archives. Jungk also includes animated segments, in darkly impressionistic style, instead of live-action re-enactments of episodes from Tudor-Hart’s life. All of this is presented in rather scattershot fashion, perhaps to reflect the messiness of her life, which ended in loneliness and penury (a Russian interviewee notes that the Soviets never paid her). A fascinating—albeit sometimes frustratingly opaque—portrait of a minor but significant player in Cold War gamesmanship, this is recommended. Aud: C, P. (F. Swietek)