The Reading Room

Something For Everybody

John Le Carré’s ‘The Little Drummer Girl’ divides opinion…..

The BBC are currently showing episode three of their adaptation of The Little Drummer Girl by John Le Carré. I wrote about it here with restrained yet optimistic anticipation and have observed with interest the reaction thus far which would appear to be equally divided between those who think it a bore and those whose belief in all things Le Carré know no bounds.

I have read the book and tried in vain to watch the original adaptation, I have been reading the author’s novels since the early nineties and remain a staunch fan of his earlier work. A BBC adaptation of one of his books should be a welcome thing given the shallow pool we fans of espionage fiction must fish in but this one leaves me wanting. Yes, we know Le Carré builds up his stories, but this, after three episodes feels stuck in first gear and I am pondering the worth in watching the fourth.

The book, set in 1979 but published in 1983 fares better than either of the televised versions which, on reflection, isn’t difficult. I was never convinced of Charlie, the lead character and Florence Pugh’s portrayal in this latest outing hasn’t altered my opinion. I sometimes feel Le Carré is given the kind of sentimental free ride many authors could only wish for and particularly when he strays from the safety of his most comfortable arena, Cold War Europe. In dealing with the enduring agony of the conflicts which torture the Middle East Le Carré sticks close to stereotype and his sympathies for the Palestinian cause are plain to see. But the characters on both sides fail to convince and lack the depth of his previous creations and can we really be expected to believe that Mossad would take such a risk with a two-bit actress like Charlie?

Last week I revisited the late Christopher Hitchens’ book Prepared For The Worst and found a well-timed review of The Little Drummer Girl by him for The Literary Review in 1983 : ‘A punch line is made out of the unsurprising fact that a Palestinian woman has a biochemistry degree from an American university. Something, in fact, for everybody. I was especially pleased to find, on page 328, the oldest and stalest line of all: the one that appears in the first story of every journalist on his first trip to the region-the one that reads, “from crackling loudspeakers wailed the muezzin, summoning the faithful to prayer”

So will the final episode manage to pull it all together? It’s set in the 70s but the acting makes it feel like the present despite the selection of period spectacles in the Mossad chief’s box of tricks and very cleverly designed sets inside and out. If Le Carré had used his real name on this I cannot help but wonder what the reaction would have been and more especially, would anyone have bothered to make it?

I can think of dozens of spy stories never put to film which could be far better. An opportunity lost or the wrong book choice? I’ll leave that to you.

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