Empire (UK) - - ON. SCREEN -

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?”

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