What do Julian Assange and Jason Bourne have in common?

Ecuador Embassy in London

Today’s instalment of the Wikileaks true-life spy story saw Julian Assange take refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy.

These events bring to my mind one of the strongest scenes in the Bourne Identity film (indeed, in the whole Bourne franchise to date) – the scene at the American Embassy in Paris. Bourne cluelessly seeks refuge there, but finds out that it is not the safe haven he had imagined. His arrival is memorable – Parisian cops outside baying for blood and being restrained by American security officials as Bourne slinks inside. His exit even more so – he is relying purely on his instincts and his training as he procures an agent’s headset, consults the Evacuation Plan from the wall of the corridor and makes his way cool-ly to the roof. Fantastic stuff.

Interestingly, the whole embassy scene is an addition to the original Robert Ludlum novel. In the novel, Bourne does not go to the American embassy in Paris – he goes straight from the bank to the hotel, where he meets Marie, or rather takes her hostage. Well done to the writers of the screenplay for conceiving the embassy scene and setting up one of the best action sequences in film history ever (yes EVER, I went there!)

When I am writing a thriller I start by writing character profiles and then go on to put together the plot as a series of set pieces. When I was outlining the novel OUTLAW, I had the idea for the embassy scene before any of the others. I won’t go into detail because the scenes in question come near the end of the book and would constitute a spoiler. Suffice to say that embassies (and the Treaty of Vienna which protects them from any ‘violation of dignity’) carry vast potential for tension, drama and conflicts of interest. In the stories of Jason Bourne, Julian Assange and Yakuuba Sor, the drama is heightened because we are seeing our protagonist at his most vulnerable – one man taking refuge in a fragile shell of a building, protected only by a few sentences of diplomatic legalese, whilst the fiercest of tempests is gathering outside. ‘Chase your character up a tree, and then throw stones at him,’ goes the thriller-writing adage. Refuge is temporary – our man is about to be battered by the full force of the Receiving State.

Here’s hoping that Julian is intimately familiar with the layout of the Ecuador embassy – or at least knows where the Evacuation Plan is pinned.

Updates (29 July 2012)

1. It was the Zurich embassy, not the Paris embassy. Bourne told Marie to drive to Paris from there. (Incidentally, there is no US embassy in Zurich – only a consulate!)

2. Broadly speaking, I am not pro-Assange. Some of the Wikileaks material was probably in the public interest, much was not. He also stands accused of rape under Swedish law.

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Stephen Davies

Children's author: picture books, chapter books and YA novels

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