James Norton and Gemma Arterton take on the lead roles in the new Netflix thriller Rogue Agent, which is the feature film debut of The Salisbury Poisonings writing duo Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson.
In the film, Happy Valley star Norton portrays Robert Freegard, a conman who kidnaps several victims while posing as an MI5 agent – all while a high-stakes manhunt aims to track him down.
If that tale sounds familiar, it's because the real Freegard was recently the subject of a Netflix Original docuseries titled The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman – which debuted on the platform in January this year.
Read on for everything you need to know about the true story behind Rogue Agent.
Rogue Agent true story: Who is Robert Freegard?
Freegard – who now goes by the name Robert Hendy-Freegard – is a British barman, car salesman, and conman.
In the '90s and early '00s, he was able to con his victims by masquerading as an MI5 agent and convincing them that they were in danger of being assassinated by the IRA.
After he had won them over, he would then separate them from their families and friends, and use tactics to extort huge sums of money out of them – eventually stealing almost £1 million in total.
The real story of his downfall is a little different than is portrayed in the movie – in real life, it was his relationship with an American child psychologist called Kim Adams, rather than a litigation lawyer named Alice Archer, that proved to be his undoing.
A sting operation was launched in 2002 which saw the FBI bug the phone of Adams' parents, which eventually led to a crucial piece of evidence: a phone call between Adams' mother and Freegard where the former said she would give him £10,000 if they met in person.
Freegard agreed, and the location chosen was Heathrow Airport, where the police showed up and arrested him.
Freegard denied all charges and claimed they were part of a conspiracy against him, but was given a life sentence in 2005 after being found guilty of two counts of kidnapping, 10 of theft, and eight of deception.
Just two years later, Freegard appealed against his kidnapping convictions and won. As reported by the Evening Standard, Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips ruled the kidnapping convictions were unsafe since the victims were not physically deprived of their liberty and it was not enough for the victims to be psychologically trapped.
He served the remainder of his nine-year sentence for the 18 offences of theft and deception, and was released from prison. His current location is unknown.
In an interview with The Belfast Telegraph, Lawn and Patterson explained how they were immediately convinced to come on board the film when producer Kitty Kaletsky told them the story.
"We couldn’t believe that this was true because it was so unlikely, dramatic and incredible, we were instantly hooked," explained Lawn.
And they said it was the chance to explore how people fell under the spell of such a conman that was the most appealing aspect of the project to them.
"What we found equally fascinating was what makes people fall under their spell," said Patterson. "Is it just a question that they aren’t very smart? Of course not. We don’t think that at all.
"Our film sets out to say that it’s not a case of a master conman and a bunch of idiots. It’s a case of a guy who is so good at what he does in terms of manipulation, that anyone could fall under his spell."
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Rogue Agent and The Puppet Master: Hunting The Ultimate Conman are both streaming now on Netflix. Sign up for Netflix from £6.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.
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