When Netflix released the official trailer to The Angel in mid-August, criticisms began pouring into the comments section. Most believed the film, releasing on September 14, would be an attempt at political propaganda.
Based loosely on Uri Bar-Joseph’s book The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, and made by Israeli director Ariel Vromen, the film explores the true but uncertain story of Ashraf Marwan, who some considered to be an Israeli agent, and others considered to be a double agent serving his home country, Egypt.
Marwan, code-named ‘The Angel’ by Israel’s national intelligence agency Mossad, was best known for tipping Israel off about an Egyptian and Syrian invasion in 1973.
Decades later, in 2002, political scientist Ahron Bregman claimed that Marwan was a double spy, who misled Israelis.
Bregman and Marwan went onto be friends despite these claims, and were due to meet on the day that Marwan’s dead body was found. (Bregman published a 2016 book titled The Spy Who Fell to Earth, the documentary rights of which were purchased last year by Salon Pictures.)
But Marwan’s real motives continue to be disputed, and speculation surrounded him up until the day he fell to his death from his London balcony in 2007, aged 63, under suspicious circumstances.
For Netflix’s big screen take on Marwan’s life, filmmaker Vromen told tabloid!: “The story behind The Angel is a piece of history that deserved to be told and the main theme of the film is about emphasising peace between both nations.”
“As an Egyptian I know this movie is gonna be [expletive],” wrote one user under The Angel trailer, “always changing history in your favour.” She added that she would still watch the movie, which looked ‘interesting’.
One user stated that they would cancel their Netflix subscription, reiterating their devotion to the Palestinian cause. Another accused the trailer of ‘faking history’. A third called it ‘another Israeli propaganda movie’, referencing Netflix’s Israeli political thriller series, Fauda, which premiered in 2016 and received criticisms of glorifying the occupation of Palestinian land.
“Can’t wait for a show about the massacres committed by the Zionists,” an additional commenter wrote.
Backlash heavily populated the comments section of the 2.04 minute trailer, but others defended the upcoming film.
“This comment section needs to chill. Enjoy the content you’re given, which looks pretty amazing truth be told,” one wrote.
“Seems like people are gonna hate anything that’s not [Daredevil] or Narcos,” another user said, referencing two popular Netflix shows.
“Thanks for picking this up, Netflix! I’ve been looking forward to this film for months,” a third wrote.
WHO WAS ASHRAF MARWAN?
Ashraf Marwan, born in 1944, was a billionaire businessman and political figure. He was famously the son-in-law of Egyptian President Jamal Abdul Nasser and an aide to his successor, President Anwar Sadat.
After falling from the fifth floor of his London home, homicide was widely suspected. One neighbour reported seeing two men in suits appear on his balcony moments after the fall to glance down before returning inside. Several notable Egyptians died in a similar manner in the UK before Marwan. Egyptian journalist Amr Ellissy conducted an investigation into Marwan’s death in his documentary series, Ekhterak.
NOT AN ADAPTATION
Vromen said that The Angel is not a direct adaptation of Bar-Joseph’s book.
“For anyone who has read the book, the film is not an adaptation; rather, it presents a different, multifaceted perspective to the story and characters,” he said.
“We’ve had some overwhelmingly positive and encouraging feedback from Egyptians on our approach to telling this story — we’re very much looking forward to hearing from audiences from all over the world now that the movie is streaming on Netflix.”
The Angel stars Tunisian-Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari in the central role of Ashraf Marwan. Kenzari's previous credits include The Mummy, Wolf and Murder on the Orient Express. He is also set to star as Jafar, the villain in Guy Ritchie’s 2019 live-action reboot of Aladdin.
Palestinian-American actor Waleed Zuaiter, recently seen as Samir Abboud in Netflix’s Altered Carbon, plays President Jamal Abdul Nasser.
“Casting was one of the most challenging parts of this process. We went to great lengths to make sure the crew and cast was diverse and took the utmost care of telling the story from a human perspective,” said Vromen.
“Expressing the nuance of different Arabic dialects as faithfully as possible was paramount for us. An Egyptian consultant and expert in the Egyptian dialect, history and politics was intimately involved from the outset and was permanently on set to ensure proprietary in performances.”
English actress Hannah Ware (Boss, Betrayal) and English actor Toby Kebbell (Black Mirror, War of the Planet of the Apes) also star.
The film shot in Arabic, Hebrew and English.