An Officer and a Spy

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One of my favourite subjects I studied between the ages of 14-16 was Modern History, I had a wonderful teacher who made the subject come alive (and believed passionately in the use of Blackadder episodes as teaching material) and Blackadder aside, one of the topics we covered, the Dreyfus affair, has always stuck in my mind. For those that maybe studied a different era for their GCSE History (I nearly ended up in the class covering the industrial revolution, far less exciting in my 14 year old mind and a teacher that didn’t believe in Blackadder), the Dreyfus affair occurred in France towards the end of the 19th century – beginning of the 20th. The French army discovered that their was a German spy in their ranks and after a spot of dodgy reasoning and out right anti semitism, decided that Captain Dreyfus, a curious officer who didn’t fit in with the others, was the culprit. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris is a fictionalised account of the affair, starting at the end of Dreyfus’ initial court martial. Picquart, who played a very minor role in Dreyfus’s arrest, is promoted to Colonel and is to head the statistical department, which is basically the intelligence section, shortly afterwards. When evidence arises that suggests that Dreyfus (who has been imprisoned in barbaric conditions on Devil’s Island) may not be guilty, Picquart is met with obstacle after obstacle from the very army personnel that created the case against Dreyfus in the first place. Picquart persists, ruining his career and eventually leading to his own imprisonment and everything seems very impossible to solve, so when the famous J’accuse is printed, I almost literally cheered.

GCSE History was a very very long time ago and as much as I liked studying the Dreyfus affair, I could only remember parts of it and although I knew that it worked out in the end, I couldn’t remember exactly how and as everything seemed so against Dreyfus and Picquart, it was very gripping to see how things turned out. There’s suspicious deaths, even a dual, I think it would make a great film. I would love to know how close the dialogue in the court room scenes match what was actually said, considering there are presumably transcripts.

***** (out of 5)

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