I read the book with much enjoyment many years ago, but this lavish BBC adaptation of John Le Carré’s 1983 novel raises the bar to very high levels indeed.
First the more banal but nonetheless important points of attraction. So far, this mini series is visually stunning, set on location in Athens, Germany, the Greek Islands and who knows where else; it is a joy to watch from that perspective alone. The lead actress is an attractive young thing and her character is played as a slightly cocky one. So far I have enjoyed the acting as a whole, from the creepy and sinister Israeli spymaster Martin Kurtz, to the enigmatic sidekick Becker, who clearly has a very soft spot for the Little Drummer Girl which he must hold in check.
But it is very, very dark, even more so than I remember. I don’t think I have ever read a book by Le Carré which has not left me feeling shaken and disturbed.
This screenplay is such that I spent a very unsettled night after watching the first couple of episodes. Who are the good guys anyway? Who indeed are the bad guys? We are none too sure whether such black and white terms are suited to this novel or indeed its subject matter.
From the first few episodes, the takeaway seem to be that the Middle East mess is the fault of the Brits who, in 1948, carved the modern state of Israel out of the Palestinian desert. So whose land was it anyway? Why should the Palestinians suddenly find themselves living in an Israeli state? Why shouldn’t the Jews, after the horrors of the Nazi gas chambers, get their own land? Who is maiming, killing and torturing who? And why?
I don’t know. I don’t know the answers to any of these questions; the situation is as opaque as that of the Irish question, another British muck up. I wish they could all live in peace but they can’t. And we can’t seem to find any compromises or solutions.
What is most noticeable about this drama is that we are never really sure where our loyalties lie. With the Israelis, persecuted for centuries by all and sundry? Some of the Israelis in this plot seem “nice guys” who seem to have the reasonable aim of preventing Jews getting blown up by terrorists. Some of them seem total shits.
And then the terrorists are portrayed. And, guess what? They are human too! Or are they freedom fighters? Because let’s face it Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, was once a terrorist too.
Supposedly its all about spies but it’s far, far more than a spy novel. It’s about duplicity, split loyalties, the inability to separate “good” from “bad”. Uncertainty, cruelty, absurdity and pointlessness.
It’s a hunt for Palestinian terrorist Khalil. The Little Drummer Girl, an English actress not wholly opposed to the Palestinian cause, is recruited by the dreadful Kurtz to infiltrate the network. There is murder and mayhem, committed by both sides and poor Little Drummer Girl suffers horribly somewhere in the middle.
There is no right or wrong. Just shades of bestial behavior, murder and deception. You will enjoy it, sure. But you won’t be left feeling very comfortable.
Damned if I know how to sort the world out. Damned if Le Carré does either. If you can’t watch the film because it’s not out on Netflix or Amazon buy the book. But don’t expect to feel good.