You may be excused if you have never read The Riddle of the Sands nor seen the movie. Both are very British. But I promise you, if you can find them, you are in for a treat.
The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers was a spy classic when I was a raw teenager who went for library books in a big way. I suppose it was a staple of UK libraries in the 60s and 70s, and it was written in 1903. When I googled it a few years ago, I discovered a lot of theories about the identity of Erskine Childers, and also a great deal of debate about whether he was a spy, and whose side he was on. What was clear was that he could write an exciting thriller (is that an oxymoron?) about the period just before the first world war, when the idea of a German invasion of Britain was almost unthinkable (royal families were closely connected), except to those in the security services.
A couple of friends who met at Cambridge, Carruthers and Davies, have a sailing holiday off the Frisian coast (north Holland, the Netherlands) and in the course of things meet a charming expat English treasure hunter (or is he?) and his even more delightful daughter, Clara. But who are their mysterious friends, and why do they keep popping up in strange parts of the coast? The protagonists follow, partly in hope of seeing the delightful daughter again, but mostly to see what these suspicious chaps are up to. For anyone who enjoys sailing, and especially if you enjoy sailing in tidal waters with sandbanks that may or may not be navigable at high tide, and in fog, it’s a must read!
That bit does not really come across in the 1979 film, but it’s the only bit that doesn’t, and there are plenty of good sailing sequences. For the ladies, the eye candy is Simon McCorkindale and Michael York. For the gents, it’s the phenomenal Jenny Agutter as Clara (not that long after they fell in love with her during the Railway Children). So we know she’s not a baddy… but her father?
The film is beautifully shot, and faithful to the book without getting hung up on the sailing aspects. There are some issues which seem unrealistic in today’s view of warfare, but in the time before the first world war (and even now) the prospect of invasion by small boats is perfectly realistic. I mean, even the Romans did it that way!
As is appropriate with thrillers, I’m not giving anything more away. If you can get the book, read it. Then watch the film. But I suspect it works even if you watch then read, since there is glorious detail in the description. One of my favourite books. And films. But of its time, and very British, as am I.
Note: there are plenty of options to get the book on Kindle at Amazon – I got it in a great value (99p) Spy Thriller Anthology, which also includes The 39 Steps and Bulldog Drummond.