The Tamarind Seed (1974): the spy who loved Julie Andrews

19 JUNE 2023

JBC rating: ***

James Bond Connections (5):

  • Soundtrack composed by John Barry (Bond composer, various, 1962 – 1987).
  • Song lyrics by Don Black (Bond lyricist, various 1964 – 1989).
  • Director of Photography Freddie Young (Cinematographer, You Only Live Twice)
  • Title sequence designed by Maurice Binder (Bond titles, various, 1962 – 1989)
  • Featuring actor Bryan Marshall (Commander Talbot in The Spy Who Loved Me) as security officer George MacLeod

The 1974 UK produced spy drama The Tamarind Seed features English star Julie Andrews as British Home Office official Judith Farrow, who unwittingly becomes involved in international intrigue after a holiday romance with Omar Sharif’s Soviet attache Major Feodor Sverdlov. In writer-director Blake Edwards’ intelligent adaptation of Evelyn Anthony’s 1971 novel, Sverdlov hopes Judith will help facilitate his defection to the West and in return he will expose the identity of ‘Blue’, a Soviet mole working at the highest levels of the British state. The east meets west plotline anticipates themes in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and both films provide a snapshot of contemporary thinking regarding the Soviet Union in the age of détente. The film can also be seen as a companion piece to Alfred Hitchcock’s underrated Torn Curtain (1966), another spy thriller featuring Julie Andrews unwittingly involved in a defection plot. However, in contrast to these two films, the quietly satisfying spy drama The Tamarind Seed largely eschews large-scale action or suspense sequences in favour of characterisation and acting fireworks.


The James Bond connections are everywhere in this absorbing spy movie. Maurice Binder’s title sequence is essentially a dry run for his iconic contribution to The Spy Who Loved Me, where Roger Moore became the first James Bond actor to feature amongst the credits. Here, Sharif gently pursues Andrews in scenes filmed from behind familiar red and blue filters. John Barry (who was to miss scoring The Spy Who Loved Me) contributes a characteristically rich, moody but occasionally bombastic score which, as with the Bond films helps elevate the action considerably. Many of the darker themes found in his score for The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) can be heard here, especially early on while Judith is brooding over her personal troubles. Freddie Young, cinematographer on You Only Live Twice (1967), ensures the lavish interior scenes in London and Paris are richly lit and the location work – especially scenes shot in ex-UK colony Barbados – remains appropriately stunning.

Julie Andrews (above), director Blake Edwards’ wife, gives an excellent star performance as Judith, a recently bereaved civil servant. Judith is an engaging Hitchcock-style civilian, innocently caught up in the intrigue as opposed to any female version of 007. As with Anya in The Spy Who Loved Me, following the loss of a companion (in this case her late husband), Judith becomes involved romantically with a charismatic, older man from an enemy country. However, the somewhat prim and proper Judith is refreshingly much less sexually forward than the standard 1970s Bond girl and she doesn’t consummate her relationship with Sverdlov until much later in the film. Omah Sharif is charismatic, charming, and worldly-wise as disillusioned Communist Sverdlov. Sharif and Andrews share genuine on-screen chemistry while their romance steadily blossoms. In several respects English actor Bryan Marshall (a future submarine commander in The Spy Who Loved Me) plays the most James Bond-esque character in the film. As junior security official George MacLeod (below, left), Marshall demonstrates expert spy craft during surveillance operations outside Judith’s Belgravia home. In further shades of 007, his casual affair with Sylvia Syms’ bored wife of a British official forms an important subplot.

Returning home to London, Judith is debriefed by gruff Intelligence Officer Jack Loder, played in no-nonsense style by veteran English character actor Anthony Quale (above, right). Reflecting the darker approach of 1970s spy movies, Loder is unsparing of Judith’s feelings as he questions her closely about Sverdlov and her private life in general. The important subplot regarding Soviet mole Blue, shows how 1970s spy cinema continued to reflect revelations regarding Soviet penetration of the British security services. Reflecting recent history, the English-born Blue became a convinced Communist at university, just like the real-life Cambridge Five. Two years after President Nixon’s visits to the Communist world inaugurated the age of détente, Loder voices concerns Sverdlov’s defection could damage Anglo-Soviet relations. However, following a later meeting with Sverdlov, Loder ultimately decides unmasking Blue is too big a prize to miss. This contrasts with The Spy Who Loved Me, which presents a fantasy interpretation of détente – 007 teams up with a Soviet agent to save the world. This much more grounded film reflects a more complex interpretation of Anglo-Soviet relations. Indeed, even in the post-1972 world of détente, the Cold war continued.

Director Blake Edwards maintains a steady pace but keeps the story engrossing throughout. High production values include a very limited use of back projection, something common for the time (only the night-time driving sequences use the process, likely reflecting difficulties filming in actual vehicles after dark). Unfortunately, the climactic beach shoot out – representing a last-ditch attempt by the Russians to prevent Sverdlov’s defection and therefore protect the identity of Blue – comes as something of a let-down. Despite John Barry’s exciting score, the action – which includes an exploding boat – is slightly clunky, especially compared to Bond movies of the time. However, for 007 fans this serves to highlight just what splendid work editors and second unit directors such as John Glen produced in the 1970s and beyond. Fortunately, the film’s epilogue provides a satisfying close to the story (with a final scene possibly inspired by Bond’s treatment of the double agent Maria Freudenstein in Fleming’s short story ‘The Property of a Lady’).


One scene includes characters watching the classic windmill sequence from Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940). However, The Tamarind Seed largely avoids Hitchcock-style melodrama, preferring to focus on the actors. Notably, chief villain Blue remains offscreen to both Sverdlov and Judith throughout, despite the fact he becomes the main threat to the defection. Hitchcock (and the Bond producers) would undoubtedly have engineered a more visible threat and perhaps this somewhat stagey approach is why The Tamarind Seed hasn’t enjoyed lasting popular success. However, the lack of extended suspense and action sequences allows room for plenty of characterisation and acting fireworks, something other spy films often miss. This remains an intelligent and absorbing spy drama, documenting how intelligence agencies still had a Cold war to fight even in the age of detente. For James Bond fans, the film provides multiple pleasures, not least Maurice Binder’s The Spy Who Loved Me-style title sequence and John Barry’s wonderful score. Recommended.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *