When Asraf Marwan fell to his death from a balcony in London in 2007 his secrets died with him too. Hailed as the best spy of the 20th Century, Egypt-born Marwan who after marrying Mona Nasser, daughter of President Nasser eventually moved to London to pursue his Masters in Chemistry. Marwan is considered as a hero and one of the world’s greatest modern spies by both Egypt and Israel, but questions still remain as to whether his loyalties lay solely with Egypt or if he was also aiding Israel.
Director, Thomas Meadmore’s documentary, based on the book of the same name by Ahron Bregman, unravels the unmasking of this “super spy” and the many theories behind his death. Bregman is our recurring talking head here among many. Bregman, a historian specialising in Israel’s 20th Century wars, outed Marwan as a spy and double agent after an – in what some may claim as obsessive – investigation of the Yom Kippur war and its literature. Bregman meticulously scoured documents from the 1973 conflict before trying to bait Marwan into admission with his book. Eventually a simple smile from the editor of General Eli Zeira’s memoirs was all Bregman needed to confirm his suspicion that Marwan was indeed a spy and double agent.
The documentary, although substantial in its information on the war itself, sometimes leaves the real subject of the story behind. In its desire to be as unbiased as possible the film is over-saturated with material that would be more at home in films of their own. A story of a spy and his sudden unexplained death, the story of the Yom Kippur war and the tale of an academic’s obsession with the subject, not only his obsession with proving him as a spy, but his obsession in protecting Marwan after being the person to out him. These would all sit nicely as stand-alone films, a more linear take on this collage-esque documentary with more room for substantial storytelling. Each element investigated and discussed holds plenty of interest but trying to pack it all in has meant there just isn’t enough of each to satiate an eager audience.
Meadmore has attempted to cover a subject that will always be met with obstacles, what he’s managed to put together is no easy feat and has made an otherwise relatively unknown subject accessible and engaging to a much wider audience than anticipated. The overarching feel is of Bregman’s need to absolve himself throughout the entire documentary, flitting between guilt and a nonchalance towards his relationship with the spy. It says much more about the author than it does about Marwan; Bregman’s underlying obsession and reasons behind his book in the first place is the highlight of the film for me, however this investigative probe into the inner workings of the Mossad and its network needs a more concentrated vision on what subject it wants to follow.
The Spy Who Fell to Earth is now on Netflix
Director – Thomas Meadmore
Starring – Ahron Bregman, Ashraf Marwan