Quick review: The Little Drummer Girl (TV series)

In this article, I talk about The Little Drummer Girl, an adaptation of the 1983 novel of the same name by John Le Carré, a famous British spy novelist. It follows an actor, Charlie, thrown into the world of spies and deception, that she can’t escape without scarring her mind.

The Little Drummer Girl is an adaptation of the 1983 novel of the same name by John Le Carré, a famous British spy novelist. Some recent adaptations of his works include Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Film) and The Night Manager (TV series), both of which are very well crafted and brilliantly adapted. But something sets The Little Drummer Girl apart: the very subject of the story is the spies themselves. The mission is second to the psychology of the protagonists and what they have to go through to complete the mission¹.

 

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Charlie is a British actor. An more than that, she is the opportunity-of-a-lifetime for the Mossad to get to a Palestinian terrorist assassinating Israelis or “Zionists” across Europe. To get into the role, she has to become the life partner of the terrorist’s brother, without ever meeting him. She has to be so convincing in the role so that she survives all the obstacles to reach into the inner circle of the terrorist cell. She becomes so ingrained by the fiction that she has a hard time not falling into her own trap and becoming the enemy. Even the Mossad operatives can’t really tell whether she’s turning or remains loyal.

Directed by Park Chan-Wook, it’s superbly executed. I was particularly glad that he wasn’t showing off like he used to in his Korean productions². This time, he chose to be intimate with the characters, get very close to them, to capture all their emotions, to build empathy and make us feel like we’re in the story. Some POVs of Charlie are also perfectly timed, when she is talking to some influential characters, showing that they’re piercing into her shell. All those direction choices serve the story and the character without showing off.

So, I really loved that TV series. I really think it’s one of the best spy stories directed in recent years, on par with The Americans. I love a show that takes time to introduce their characters and build arcs so meaningful that you want to stay close to them until the end. I am so hooked now that I want to read the book, so I don’t have to leave them just yet.

The Little Drummer Girl is a 6-part TV series available on AMC/BBC One.

¹ The mission isn’t really special in the spy genre and goes pretty smoothly, considering how it affects the characters.

² I really love most of what he’s done in Korea, but to be honest, his art direction is often way over the top and unnecessary.

Quick review: Patriot (Amazon Prime)

Review of Patriot, an Amazon program where an American spy is tasked on an international mission and messes up at every steps because his depression always comes in the way. An original writing and interesting directing choices makes it a show well worth seeing.

With the release of the season 2 of Patriot (that I have thoroughly binge-watched this weekend), I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about this astonishing program that came well under the radar but is full of awesome ideas. It’s one of the best depictions of depression that I know, and you can’t fail to understand how the character thinks and feels after seeing it.

The story is about John Tavner, an American spy who is tasked by his boss (who is also his father) to give money to help the presidential campaign of an Iranian politician. To do that, he has to get hired under a fake identity in a construction company, and get sent to Luxembourg to meet a man who will in turn bring the money where it needs to go.

But John hate his job, although he can’t quit. Why, you might think? John feels his job is too important to be done wrong, or at least the job is more important than himself, and he has a duty to his father. So he has to do it. And he has to do things that makes him fall every time deeper in depression, especially when he messes up. And he messes up, a lot. Essentially because he is depressed. And nobody notices. NOBODY! Well, until his wife, to whom he can’t say a thing about his job, and his brother, start to see that he isn’t “pretty good”.

One interesting thing about the writing is the atmosphere that gets even more absurd as the story goes. The script doesn’t care about a specific credibility of events. The point is not to make the investigation or the situations realistic, or to have logical dialogues between background characters, but to show that John goes more into madness as he commits crimes. But somehow he retains some form of sanity, he has this drive to see his mission to the end, even if the absurdity of the situation overwhelms him completely. Will he see the light in the darkness? Will his wife come to save him from his mission and his father?

So, if you have some time to kill and a Prime subscription, I would really recommend seeing this series, especially if you like some dark humour. Plus the main actor is incredibly good.

Quick note: The Hate U Give/Seven Seconds

Crime against African-American people in America is a hot topic, so hot that many works of fictions are made on the subject. I am no expert, far from it, but I’m always interested in filling some of the blank in my own knowledge, to complement the limited information that we get in the press.

Crime against African-American people in America is a hot topic, so hot that many works of fictions are made on the subject. I am no expert, far from it, but I’m always interested in filling some of the blank in my own knowledge, to complement the limited information that we get in the press. So recently, I have read and watched back to back two works on the subject, that are very different, both in terms of media and treatment.

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The first one was The Hate U Give, first novel from Angie Thomas. It follows Starr, a high school girl who witnesses the murder of her friend by a policeman. She tries to avoid having to talk about it publicly or even give a witness account of the event until she can’t take it anymore and comes to realise that her silence is making it worse for her friend’s memory.

Then I followed with Seven Seconds, a Netflix show created by Veena Sud (The Killing US) about a cop who accidentally kills a young boy on his bike, but leaves him for dead until he is found by a passerby hours later. In this one, the story follows all the protagonists. It focuses on the prosecutor, KJ Harper, but also shows the perspective of the cops, the family and the witness.

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First, let’s focus on what make them stand apart. The first obvious thing is the type of crime: while The Hate U Give depicts a cop who shoots a kid because he thought he was armed (which becomes his line of defence), in Seven Seconds, it starts with an accident (texting and driving), but becomes a conspiracy of four officers (the first cop is helped by his colleagues) to cover the crime.

Then, Angie Thomas is so focused on her main character (who narrates the story) that every one else serves her narrative. In that regard, it takes a lot from coming-of-age stories, but on top of teenage feelings, family troubles and the discovery of adulthood, her friend is shot dead in front of her eyes. Nevertheless, the other characters are not accessory, they have deep personalities and reasonably lead Starr in her path. Veena Sud’s story is at the complete opposite. It wants to show everyone’s side. Not so you can empathise with the killer, but to understand everyone’s motivation.

Now, in the end, both stories have huge similarities. They both showcase the death of a young black boy who has links in the drug rings, which is used by the media to steer the public opinion, and the family tries to disprove it, both stories keeping the suspense on the matter until the end. They also show that cops can get out of killing black people pretty easily, even when evidence of wrongdoing is staggering, and the novel and the show keep realistic about it. The verdicts are neither over-dramatic or optimistic, they only reflect the current situation.

But that’s not where they draw the biggest interest. Their main feature is that they both show a tormented character who feels helpless and with the help of a few people, will rise to the challenge and help the cause. Starr is still a teenager, and the choices she makes will echo all her life and define her. Her story ends with the discovery of who she want to be, and it could only have happened because of the choices she made with or against the good will of her friends and family. In Seven Seconds, KJ has hit the glass ceiling, is haunted by a past investigation, and she gets to investigate this death that has no hope of leading to a conviction. As she gets discouraged and then supported by the only policeman who actually gives a crap (and serves as a comic relief), she has to face barriers and obstacles to uncover the truth. In the end, even if she doesn’t really win (nobody does, seeing their faces), she gains the respect of her peers, and most importantly, her own.

So, are they worth reading/watching? Definitely. The Hate U Give brought me several times to tears. It’s very powerful, and I was staying late at night to finish it. It is also refreshing to see that it is full of humour despite the serious subject. Seven Seconds is also good. Being 10 episodes, it trails sometimes, mainly because of the mother-uncle’s ark, which tends to be sloppy, and some moments at the end when it goes over the top. But the series is so well played by Clare-Hope Ashitey, and even though it didn’t create the same effect than Angie Thomas’ novel, I still recommend it because it’s a really important story and it makes a lot of efforts to remain honest, especially by keeping the human side of all characters.