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The Fourth Protocol
Directed by John Mackenzie
Produced by Timothy Burrill
Written by Frederick Forsyth (book)
George Axelrod
Richard Burridge (additional material)
Starring Michael Caine
Pierce Brosnan
Ned Beatty
Joanna Cassidy
Julian Glover
Music by Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography Phil Meheux
Editing by Graham Walker
Release date(s) August 28, 1987
Running time 119 min.
Language English

The Fourth Protocol is a 1987 Cold War spy film starring Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan, based on the novel The Fourth Protocol by Frederick Forsyth.



The plot centres on a secret 1968 East-West agreement to halt nuclear proliferation. One of the clauses, the Fourth Protocol, forbids the non-conventional delivery of a nuclear weapon to a target.

MI5 agent John Preston (Michael Caine) breaks into the residence of British government official George Berenson on New Year's Eve and finds a number of top secret NATO files that should not have been there. He reports his findings to high-ranking British Secret Service official Sir Nigel Irvine (Ian Richardson), who deals with the leak. However, Preston's unauthorized action has embarrassed the acting-Director of MI5, Brian Harcourt-Smith (Julian Glover), so as punishment for his insubordination, Preston is relegated to lowly "Airports and Ports".

Meanwhile, KGB agent Major Valeri Petrofsky (Pierce Brosnan) is sent on a mission to England personally by General Govershin (Alan North), the head of the KGB. One of Govershin's subordinates, Borisov (Ned Beatty), complains to his old friend General Karpov (Ray McAnally), about his espionage department being stripped of resources and personnel, particularly his star agent Petrofsky. The surprised Karpov quietly investigates and learns about Petrofsky's unsanctioned mission - to violate the Fourth Protocol by assembling and detonating an atomic device so that it will appear to be a nuclear accident at an American base. It is intended to strain Anglo-American relations and strengthen the anti-nuclear movement in advance of an election.

In Glasgow, a Russian sailor is struck by a truck while fleeing from a port guard. Among the dead man's possessions, Preston finds a disk of polonium, which can only be a component of a detonator for an atomic bomb. He informs Harcourt-Smith, but is promptly suspended, as Harcourt-Smith believes that Preston is manufacturing a fake incident to work his way back into MI5. Luckily however, he has the confidence of Sir Bernard Hemmings (Michael Gough), the gravely-ill Director of MI5. Preston sets to work and eventually comes across Winkler, a known Czech KGB agent, and tails him from the airport.

Meanwhile, Petrofsky meets another KGB agent, Irina Vassilievna (Joanna Cassidy), a bomb expert who pretends to be his wife. Under her guidance, they assemble the device from seemingly-harmless items; She sets it on a two-hour delay per their instructions. Later, unbeknownst to Petrofsky, Vassilievna follows her own orders, resetting the delay to zero. After sleeping with Petrofsky, she finds his own secret order to liquidate her and tries to warn him about the double-cross, but he kills her before she can.

Afterwards, Petrofsky is observed contacting Winkler. The British follow him to Ipswich, lose him, then find him again. Preston eventually realises that Petrofsky's target is RAF Baywater, and locates Petrofsky's house, which lies right next to the base.

When Petrofsky starts to activate the bomb, on an impulse, he checks the timer first and realises he has been betrayed. At that moment, British agents storm the house. After a desperate struggle, Preston subdues Petrofsky. However, much to Preston's outrage, another agent cold-bloodedly kills the spy, explaining afterwards that he had orders to do so.

Hemmings dies. At his funeral, Preston is unsurprised to find Irvine secretly meeting with General Karpov. Preston had become suspicious when known KGB agent Winkler was used as a courier, making it easy to follow him, and also when Petrofsky was killed instead of being captured for questioning. He surmised that discrediting Govershin would benefit the two men he sees before him. However, Preston does not see any point in exposing them and leaves after expressing his contempt for their cynical powerplay.

Differences from the novel

  • The Gentleman thief character of Rawlings doesn't exist in the film, so nor do any of his plot elements - instead the initial robbery is undertaken by John Preston to try and expose Berenson.
  • In the book, arch-traitor Kim Philby hatches the plan to topple the Conservative government and bring the unilateralist (at the time) Labour party to power. The Philby of the novel is in charge of the execution of Plan Aurora, whereas in the film, he is shot dead by the Soviets during the film's opening scene.
  • The film misses out a significant section of the book dedicated to John Preston's investigation into the soviet agent Jan Marais. Instead Jan is introduced as an already exposed Soviet spy now under observation. This was almost certainly excluded from the film for pacing reasons, however the length of the investigation in the novel explains why John is removed from his current post and moved to C1 ports - this is glossed over in the film.



Much of the movie was shot in the Heelands district of Milton Keynes, notably the A-frame house from "Homeworld 81".

Scenes set on the London Underground were shot at Charing Cross, Green Park, and Aldwych stations.

The "RAF Baywaters" scenes were filmed at the now defunct RAF Upper Heyford as a take on the real life RAF Bentwaters.

The filming also took place in Finland.

Towards the end of the movie, the car chase in Ipswich is actually shot in Chelmsford. One shot shows helicopters flying under the Orwell Bridge which is often considered a local landmark.

External links



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