sun 14/07/2024

The Little Drummer Girl, BBC One, review - latest Le Carré just passes audition | reviews, news & interviews

The Little Drummer Girl, BBC One, review - latest Le Carré just passes audition

The Little Drummer Girl, BBC One, review - latest Le Carré just passes audition

The latest spy drama pits a young English actress against Islamic terror

Coming Acropolis: Florence Pugh and Alexander Skarsgård in 'The Little Drummer Girl'BBC / The Little Drummer Girl Distribution Limited

When after six novels John Le Carré turned away from the Cold War, he turned towards another simmering post-war conflict, between Israel and Islam. The Little Drummer Girl was published in 1983, and filmed a year later with Diane Keaton and Klaus Kinski.

As the novel becomes the latest Le Carré to be adapted for BBC One it remains just as current. With the Palestinian question no nearer to resolution, there is nothing opportunistic about this revival.

Inevitably a Sunday-night six-parter from the same production company is going to be measured against The Night Manager, which gripped like a vice in 2016. And there is a very obvious point of comparison to work with. Much as Tom Hiddleston wormed his way into Hugh Laurie’s lair, The Little Drummer Girl will tell of a freelance spy hired by a secret service agency to smoke out an enemy. In this case the spook is a professional dissembler: she is an actor.

We first met Charlie Ross (Florence Pugh) in an audition, where a casting director urged her to “take the essence of the scene and make it your own”. She duly launched into a narrative about how she found the courage to challenge a homophobic bully in a pub. The accompanying images indicated that her account was a self-aggrandising fabrication. So we already know she’s adept at lying, but not whether she really is brave. After all, it’s one thing to play Joan of Arc, but quite another to inhabit the role of a principled freedom-fighter away from the stage. (Pictured below, Michael Shannon and Michael Moshonov)Michael Shannon, The Little Drummer GirlThe first episode told the creepy story of Charlie’s recruitment by a handsome enigmatic stranger (Alexander Skarsgård) who introduced himself as Joseph. In a Greek island resort he lured her into his web by the simple two-card trick of reading Conversations with Allende while not wearing a shirt. Optimistically, Charlie thought the lattice of scars on his torso was the work of women, and perhaps dreamed of leaving her own mark.

Meanwhile, back in Germany, a Mossad cell run by Martin Kurtz (Michael Shannon) was keeping a close eye on Michel (Amir Khoury), a Palestinian Liberation Organisation terrorist who in the opening scene used a young female decoy to insinuate a bomb into Israel’s diplomatic residence in Germany. Where hot-headed underling Litvak (Michael Moshonov) was all for instant and summary vengeance, Kurtz is of a creative bent. “Our fiction has to match their reality,” he argued as he plotted a longer-term stratagem to ensnare his quarry, less like a string-pulling spymaster than an experimental theatremaker. As the wearer of a number tattoo from the camps, he carries the burden of moral authority.Simona Brown and Amir Khoury in The Little Drummer GirlLe Carré isn’t always comfortable around young women – he’s much more at home with sexless spinster types like safehouse snoop Miss Bach (Clare Holman). Thus Charlie’s seduction by Joseph did not entirely have the ring of plausibility. Admitting to dodginess, he flew her to Athens, romanced her at the Parthenon and let her play shadows on the walls before pulling out of a smooch. “So where are we going now?” she asked waggishly. “Taj Mahal?”

We probably won’t get there but The Little Drummer Girl doesn’t stint on locations or – and this is integral to the story – beautiful young people of both genders ruthlessly using one another for their own ends (pictured above: Simona Brown and Amir Khoury). Director Chan-wook Park is into a mini-sequence of putting British novelists on screen: his last was The Handmaiden, loosely based on Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith. He insisted to the drama’s producers, Le Carré’s sons Simon and Stephen Cornwell, that the part of Charlie go to Florence Pugh, who first made a splash in Lady Macbeth. She has repaid his faith, though one screeching joyride through Athenian backstreets is the only test she’s faced so far. And Shannon also gives a gravel-voiced masterclass in discreetly snacking on the furniture. This was a tasty appetiser with the promise of meatier fare to follow.


Joseph lured Charlie into his web by the simple two-card trick of reading Conversations with Allende while not wearing a shirt


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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