Cold-War-set drama “A Different Loyalty” reps a handsome enough but creakily mechanical star vehicle for Sharon Stone, here playing a ex-pat society wife who must pass through the Iron Curtain when her husband (Rupert Everett) turns out to be a Communist spy. Loosely based on the real-life story of British defector Kim Philby and his wife Eleanor, pic forms a disappointing companion piece to helmer Marek Kanievska’s debut “Another Country” which fictionalized Philby-associate Guy Burgess’ early life. Corny storytelling and wobbly perfs won’t gain much loyalty from theatrical auds, but pic could find a happier asylum on cable and ancillary.
Pic follows the basic outline of Eleanor Philby’s story, but renames her Sally, while the character based on Kim Philby (Everett) is renamed Leo Cauffield. Married and living in Beirut in the early-’50s with a young daughter by an American journalist (John Bourgeois), Sally leaves her husband for Leo after a passionate affair. By 1961, she and Leo, who is posing as a stringer for the London Times but is also working for MI6, have two more children and a comfortable niche in Beirut ex-pat society.
One night, Cauffield fails to show up for a dinner party and then stays missing for weeks. The spy org posits that Leo was a double agent working for the KGB, and that he has “found a different loyalty” (their euphemism for a traitor), a fact Sally denies until she gets a letter from him in Moscow, confessing that he defected and asking her to join him with the children.
Third act finds Sally angsting about her options, covertly entering the Soviet Union to see an ailing but ideologically zealous Leo, who is under constant surveillance by the KGB. On return, she’s grilled by the CIA, which wants to know Leo’s whereabouts.
Pic attempts to broaden its reach by mixing Cold War, John Le Carre-style intrigue with woman’s picture passion, but fails to convince in either department. Amateur historians of the notorious Cambridge Five — double-agents Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, John Cairncross, Anthony Blunt and Philby himself, who were all recruited at Trinity College at the same time — will find mild diversion spotting the fictionalized versions here, but the script has little interest in explaining what kind of secrets were passed to the Soviets and why their treachery was so important. Kanievska’s earlier “Another Country,” in which Everett not-so coincidentally starred as young Burgess, was at least richer thematically with its gay subplot and caustic portrait of public school life.
It doesn’t help “A Different Loyalty” that Stone and Everett have virtually no onscreen chemistry, despite insistent nudges by the script that lust is what kept them together despite their hardships. Stone gamely bares her breasts for the camera in several soft-focus sex scenes, but her perf is otherwise frequently mannered, at best recalling her more hysterical moments in “Casino,” at its worst suggestive of an attempt to channel late Joan Crawford, with constant costume changes and a series of struck poses. Everett, who takes an executive producer credit on this, often looks simply bored.
Kanievska and lenser Yvann Thibaudeau relies too much on yellowed flashbacks which give pic a cheesy, TV-miniseries look. End credits suggest co-production money was given a thorough rinsing with location work, with shoots in London, Malta (passing for Beirut), Montreal and Moscow. Tech credits are generally pro, with production design aces on period detail.