The Little Drummer Girl: ‘full of promise’

Having recently finished reading the novel of The Little Drummer Girl, I for one am itching to catch the upcoming incarnation on the BBC. Following the success of The Night Manager, another of John le Carré’s nail-biting spy thrillers has been adapted for our Sunday evening delight on the small screen, The Little Drummer Girl, and (dare I say) it looks to be even more gripping than its predecessor. Remember falling in love with The Night Manager, being enchanted by Bodyguard? The Little Drummer Girl could well be the next Sunday night obsession.

One of le Carré’s more complex tales, the story tackles themes of betrayal and love of country amid a web of Middle Eastern mystery and espionage. Charlie, a young, English, bohemian actress (Florence Pugh) is sucked into the shadowy world of espionage after discovering that her holiday romance Becker (Alexander Skarsgård) is an Israeli Intelligence Officer. The unsuspecting Charlie strikes up a relationship with Becker that will lead her to become entangled in a plot to hunt a Palestinian bomb-maker, orchestrated by spymaster, Kurtz (Michael Shannon).

The cast looks full of promise: the lead role is played by Florence Pugh, a performance that has drawn media attention since its announcement. We’ve seen her recently in the BBC film version of King Lear alongside Anthony Hopkins in her role as Cordelia. Supporting Pugh in his role as Becker is Tarzan’s Alexander Skarsgård, another performance that promises great potential. Also, don’t forget to look out for le Carré himself making a cameo; he has something of a habit of popping up in his adaptations.

There is a large amount of press attention surrounding the characterisation of Charlie, with many asking if we are entering into a new era for women in spy fiction. From what we know already, it does look as though the approach to the character is an original one. The centralisation of the female protagonist as the audience’s’ eyes and ears is interesting; she is not brash or omniscient but holds her own. What this approach achieves is a sense of recognition for the female protagonist that we are yet to see much of in the spy genre, a presentation as simultaneously unremarkable yet admirable due to her humanity.

While The Night Manager was brought into the 21st century for its TV adaptation, The Little Drummer Girl has been kept in its original setting of the 1970s. This should add a texture of nostalgia to the production, gifting audiences the experience of a classic tale of espionage. There is an ineffable tension, a smoke-tinged allure to the slow turn of tape machines and the tap of electronic typewriters, much more palpable than any atmosphere smartphones and apps could ever create. All this feeds effortlessly into a crafted aura, promising to make watching the show a riveting experience.

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Max Pleasance

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September 2021
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