The Little Drummer Girl
Having scored a worldwide hit with The Night Manager, the BBC is clearly hoping to bottle lightning twice with its latest John le Carré spy caper.
But The Little Drummer Girl, which has been brought to the screen byacclaimed South Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park (Oldboy), is a very different prospect indeed to the glossy, globetrotting, bum-baring antics that put Tom Hiddleston in the frame as a possible future 007. Set in the washed out, dirty brown world of 1979, this one’s spiritually closer to the shabby, down-at-heel milieu of George Smiley – indeed Michael Shannon’s methodical Mossad spymaster Martin Kurtz, with his raincoat and oversized specs, could be Smiley’s long lost Israeli cousin.
The plot sees Kurtz recruiting Charlie Ross, a young British actress played by fast-rising star Florence Pugh, to act as a honey trap in order to infiltrate a Palestinian terror cell. Not that you’d necessarily know that from the first episode which, after an explosive start with a devastating attack on the family of an Israeli attaché in Bonn, proceeded at a glacial pace, with barely any of the pieces of the story actually in place by the end credits.
Instead, we got Charlie and her Mossad handler Gadi (Big Little Lies’ Alexander Skarsgard) lounging about on a Greek beach and making eyes at each other during a lengthy moonlit tour of the Parthenon, and plenty of Kurtz’s homespun philosophising, delivered in Shannon’s peculiar, stilted growl. ’If you want to catch a lion, a toy goat won’t play,’ he declared, cryptically. ‘Our goat has to be alive, has to smell right, has to taste right. Has to have a heart, even if it is in the wrong place right now.’ ‘I don’t buy it,’ replied his boss. I’m not sure I do either.
It was, frankly, all a bit dreary. But Pugh – a hot property since her award-winning performance in the 2016 British film Lady Macbeth – is immensely watchable, and we can expect the action to kick up several gears next week, when The Little Drummer Girl will hopefully start to find its rhythm.
Julia Davis is on reliably provocative form in her latest pitch black comedy, a co-production between Sky and HBO. Mousey Sally (Catherine Shepherd) is trapped in a loveless relationship with her sopping wet fiancé David (the brilliantly appalling Alex McQueen) – until an encounter with wild, liberated club singer Emma (Davis) leads to a steamy affair. It’s funny, watch-through-your-fingers excruciating and very, very rude – including a no-holds barred sex scene soundtracked by T’Pau.
If the title sounds familiar, it’s not just because all ITV thrillers have names like Dark Heart. This yucky tale of a masked vigilante targeting paedophiles first appeared, confusingly, on ITV Encore two years ago, and has now been commissioned for a full series. The real surprise is it’s written by Chris Lang who, having sidestepped all the usual crime show clichés with Unforgotten, here dives in head first, complete with Tom Riley as a maverick cop haunted by – eye roll – demons.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, November 1, 2018
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