It’s about time John Le Carré was back on BBC1.
It’s been two-and-a-half years since The Night Manager was on TV so it’s been a long wait for The Little Drummer Girl, a six-part adaption of the master spy writer’s 1983 book. And the good news is that it’s rather wonderful – a fabulous tonic as the nights draw in.
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It’s very different from The Night Manager, however. While the Tom Hiddleston thriller had high stakes James Bond glamour, and felt like a pacy more conventional thriller, The Little Drummer Girl is slower, more considered, slightly weightier perhaps and more psychological. But no less absorbing.
Our star is the dazzling Florence Pugh who plays a young, politically conscious, left-leaning actress called Charlie in late 1970s London. She has been noticed by a Mossad squad led by Kurtz (Michael Shannon complete with large 70s moustache) because the organisation believes her views to be less dogmatic and more nuanced than those espoused by her peers. And they think she is someone who could ultimately penetrate a Palestinian terror cell.
Charlie’s training requires her to be closely quartered with Israeli intelligence officer Becker (Alexander Skarsgård), embarking on an unusual road trip in a bid to get into character and create a convincing back story.
Both The Night Manager and The Little Drummer Girl are infiltrator stories at heart. Hiddleston’s Jonathan Pine penetrated the inner circle of a corrupt arms dealer (memorably played by Hugh Laurie) while Charlie is destined to work her way into another dangerous group of people who, we see in one of the very first scenes, are capable of monstrous violence.
But here the differences end. For one thing The Night Manager – published in 1993 but updated by the BBC to the present day – was told as a contemporary story of private finance and corruption. The Little Drummer girl retains its original 1979 setting, and inhabits the wholly different landscape of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I suspect, for this very obvious reason, it may prove slightly controversial too.
The period setting is conjured with supreme and loving precision. Art director Maria Djurkovic has given us a visual feast – a palette of bright colours with little or no brown or avocado swirls or garishly patterned wallpaper. There aren’t any kipper collars or bell bottoms either – because this is a world on the cusp of the 1980s.
The Little Drummer Girl is director Park Chan-wook’s first TV project and he brings a sweeping, cinematic sensibility to the screen. There is a scene in episode one filmed at the Acropolis in Athens at night which is magical. According to the producers, it was the first time a film drone was sent over the Parthenon – and it’s quite something.
I have no doubt that fans of Le Carré and of The Night Manager TV series, will love this. As long as they’re not expecting more of the same.
Just ask Simon Cornwell, the executive producer of both dramas and son of John Le Carré. As he put it at the screening (and I wouldn’t argue with a word of this): “This is unashamedly, deliberately very different from the Night Manager in terms of its tone and approach. I find it hugely exciting and quite different. I think I have reached the point in my life when I don’t want to do the same thing twice anymore.”
The Little Drummer Girl starts on BBC1 on Sunday 28 October at 9pm
This article was originally published on 12 October 2018