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ROME 2018

TV series review: The Little Drummer Girl

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- The Anglo-American mini-series and television debut by the visionary Park Chan-wook, adapted from John Le Carré's novel, fails to build tension

TV series review: The Little Drummer Girl
Alexander Skarsgård and Florence Pugh in The Little Drummer Girl

The BBC/AMC mini-series The Little Drummer Girl, adapted from the eponymous novel byJohn le Carré and directed by the Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook, is due to be released on BBC One on 28 October (and in November in the USA).The series stars Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Shannon and Florence Pugh. Set at the end of the 1970s, the thriller follows Charlie (Pugh), an idealist theatre actress with some radical political ideas, who meets the mysterious Becker (Skarsgård) while on holiday in Greece. She soon becomes the pivot in a complicated setup thought up by Kurtz (Shannon), a key Israeli spy, to find and annihilate a family of dangerous Palestinian terrorists. 

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Little Drummer Girl, by the executive producers of the TV series The Night Manager – winner of a Golden Globe and an Emmy – marks the TV debut of the visionary Korean filmmaker, whose direction seems to have been somewhat influenced by Carré’s participation as an executive producer. The first two episodes (of six) were premiered in the Official Selection at the 13th edition of Rome Film Fest. The first episode starts off rather confused and takes a while to get going (just like the book).  It's 1979 and the home of an Israeli diplomat in West Germany is devastated by a semtex bomb carried by a young German man (who we later find out belonged to the Baader Meinhof group). The attack bears the signature of three anti-Zionist Palestinian brothers who are inciting fear in various Western countries, recruiting young Europeans as their accomplices. Kurtz has been on their tail for a long time and has a plan: use a young western girl to play a double game and act as bait for terrorists. Although it seems implausible to convince a young actress, who claims to be in favour of the Palestinian cause, to change her views just by exploiting her artistic desire to escape her secret banal life, this is precisely what happens in a scene that unfolds somewhat quickly in the second episode. The episode’s metaphor seems to be that being an actor is essentially about leading a double life, which is just like being a spy.

There was previously a film adaptation of the novel in 1984 by George Roy Hill starring Klaus Kinski in the role of Kurtz and Diane Keaton as Charlie – a thirty-year-old American. The TV version by Park Chan-wook is faithful to the novel in all its complexity and slowness, preventing the tension from rising to a high enough level to attract the viewer's attention, especially when compared to the brilliance of titles such as Munich by Steven Spielberg. The Little Drummer Girl is definitely a tribute to classic spy cinema but finding evidence of the hand that shot the Vengeance Trilogy and The Handmaiden is difficult. It certainly seems as though the Seoul-based director has had to rein in his black humour and the ferocity that distinguishes his films in favour of a somewhat icy unfolding of events, while maintaining his clean and complex direction and a style that combines classic cinema with modernity. This seems to be precisely what the Anglo-American producers of The Little Drummer Girl wanted from him. The Korean director of photographyKim Woo-hyung, who has collaborated on various successful historical films,cleverly creates a '70s feel, skilfully moving from London and Germany (despite the scenes being shot in Prague) to the dazzling lights of Greece and the night's sky over the Parthenon in Athens.

But it is the depth of the characters that is slow to develop in the first two episodes. The greatMichael Shannon enters with a bit of a struggle in the role of Mossad, while Alexander Skarsgård is an icy and stuffy Becker and Florence Pugh, the extraordinary and disturbing Catherine in Lady Macbeth [+see also:
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, is awkward and not particularly convincing thanks to her standoffish acting.

(Translated from Italian)

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