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Thursday 16 August 2018

Tracking Edith, Documentary Film Austria 2017, written and directed by Peter Stefan Jungk, 9* out of 10, seen at JW3 Cinema in London

Combining cultural, social and political aspects of European history of the 20th century, Peter Stefan Jungk presents a beautifully crafted, meticulously researched and highly entertaining documentary about his aunt, the Viennese-born socialist photographer and devastatingly effective Soviet spy Edith Tudor-Hart.  

The subject of her great-nephew Peter Stefan Jungk’s documentary is Edith Tudor – Hart née Suschitzky (1908 -1977). Born in Vienna to a highly educated atheist and social democratic Jewish family, she became a kindergarten teacher trained personally by the educationalist Maria Montessori, then a talented photographer and one of the most devastatingly successful spies the Soviet Union ever had. 

With her Rolleiflex camera, she documented the lives of the working classes in interwar Austria, moved her domicile to the UK and trained her camera on the working classes of London and the Welsh Rhonda Valley. 

Edith’s turbulent emotional life included a marriage with the English surgeon John Tudor – Hart who left his family for Edith and, in turn, left Edith and her new-born son for the Spanish civil war. Later, when her son develops autism and is treated by the renowned child psychiatrist David Winnicott, she also has an affair with him. 

The big family secret Peter Stefan Jungk uncovers about his aunt is that she was one of the most effective spies the Soviet Union ever had. In Vienna, she had had a relationship with spy handler Arnold Deutsch. This was at the origin of the crucial role she would later play in the recruitment of the “Cambridge 5”, a group of 5 Cambridge University graduates, including Kim Philby, Guy Burgess and Donald MacLean who were all part of the most devastatingly successful spy-network of the Cold War period at the highest echelons of British society.

Based on Jungk’s excellent book, The Dark Rooms of Edith Tudor – Hart, Tracking Edith is a beautifully researched and crafted documentary, combining cultural, social and political aspects of European history of the 20th century. Jungk’s interviews with relevant experts and family members are an object lesson of a quiet, subtle and sometimes humorous style that makes his interviewees comfortable. Three of the members of the Suschitzky family interviewed by Jungk are renowned cinematographers. Perhaps there is a cinematography-gene in the Suschitzky family which would explain the beautifully inventive cinematography that brings Edith’s photographs to life and includes the use of animation. All this contributes to making Tracking Edith a most interesting, thought-provoking and suspenseful documentary about this multi-talented, idealistic and practical woman. Edith Tudor -Hart combined strong political convictions, great artistic skills, a naïve enthusiasm for Stalin’s Soviet Union, a surprisingly modern attitude to sexual relationships and the ability to face the challenges of everyday life with a special talent for the practical aspects of espionage. 

It is not easy to do justice to such a multi-faceted life in a single documentary. Tracking Edith succeeds handsomely, is informative and entertaining and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

Edith Tudor - Hart

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