THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL
CREATED BY Simon and Stephen Cornwell DIRECTED BY Park Chan-wook
CAST Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Shannon, Florence Pugh
PLOT Set in the late 1970s, politically conscious, enigmatic actress Charlie (Pugh) is spotted by an Israeli Mossad agent (Shannon), and recruited to infiltrate a Palestinian terror cell, via the charms of cool Israeli intelligence officer Becker (Skarsgård). And so begins a tale of spies, intrigue and love. THE BEEB HAS been knocking drama out of the park this year: it’s finally getting its hands dirty, with Killing Eve and Bodyguard, so the question: can
The Little Drummer Girl rise to meet expectations? Well, maybe.
The story originates from a classic John le Carré novel, le Carré no stranger to a BBC adaptation, having previously given us the likes of the massive 2016 The Night Manager (also produced by le Carré’s sons, Simon and Stephen Cornwell). However, if you’re expecting a follow-up to the latter, leave your preconceptions at the door, as this tale of espionage and infiltration is a wholly different storytelling experience.
One of the three protagonists, Marty Kurt, is an Israeli Mossad agent on the trail of a Palestinian terror cell. Michael Shannon dons a typically ’70s wiry ’tache, and an accent which he may have unwittingly borrowed from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’s Watto. In his endeavour to snare the cell, Marty puts together a team of operatives, led by the aloof Becker, who doesn’t seem a million miles away from Alexander Skarsgård’s character in Big Little Lies — both morose and terrifying, what’s going on behind the eyes is unclear. Becker in turn recruits Charlie Ross, a seemingly low-level actress, to take on the role of a lifetime: that of infiltrating the cell. Florence Pugh is an utter delight: natural and easy here, her performance reminiscent of early Kate Winslet. Why Kurtz goes about recruiting an actress for his mission, instead of using another spy, is a mystery we’ll let slide for now.
As the first episode gently unfolds, almost like déjà vu, you feel the familiar presence and nuances of long shots and staging felt in The Night Manager. But with director Park Chan-wook (Old Boy, The Handmaiden) at the helm, you’re in for a visual treat. At first sight this very BBC drama and its source material seem worlds apart from the brutality and horror of his signature work, but camera work in scenes of note, especially those in episode two, clearly bare the auteur’s stamp.
Perhaps the most glorious part of The Little Drummer Girl, amongst the breathtaking architectural shots of staircases and the Acropolis, is the sheer beauty of the cinematography. Imagine the film has been shot through an autumnal Instagram filter: the essence of the 1970s captured perfectly through the almost exclusive use of shades of muted mustards, burnt oranges, deep blues and vivid greens. It really does make for a feast for the eyes. Albeit a casually paced one. DANIELLE GRAPH
VERDICT A definite deliberate slowburner, with enough intrigue to keep you hooked, if not immediate binge-worthiness. Undoubtedly Florence Pugh’s vehicle to stardom.
“Are you the spy who loved me?”