Thirty-five years later, Le Carre's biggest spy story is a fascinating miniseries


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Alexander Skarsgard as Becker and Florence Pugh as Charlie in The Little Girl Drummer.Credit:Â © 2018 The distribution of the small drummer girl limited. All rights reserved.

Skarsgard's character is a former soldier, a veteran of the Six Day War, who struggles to maintain the faith that the cause is just and his methods justifiable. This spreads gradually: in the first two episodes of the series, he hardly says a word. "He just shows up and you know nothing about him, his involvement and what his intentions are," says Skarsgard. "So he just goes into her life." Michael Shannon plays Marty Kurtz, a grizzled Mossad operator with a number tattooed on his arm and a conviction that he is cleaning the country in readiness for a peace deal.

Le Carre is generally admired for undressing the spy game, but Shannon sees her character as a romantic figure. "He is a man who overcame an incredibly brutal childhood to cling to some sense of hope that he could have a positive effect on the world.He went to Israel and became a freedom fighter and then joined the Mossad, not just bombard them into little pieces, let's try to understand them. " I find that very romantic, "he says.

He is also intrigued by Kurtz's vision of his espionage, with his entanglements and cover identities and fake stories, as an art form: "the theater of the real," as he calls it. "You could call it manipulation or something with a negative connotation, but I love how it celebrates the way it builds these realities, because that's what I do." Spies can do better, it reflects. "They need it, because if I do poorly, I will not die."

Park's director, as Park Chan-wook is known to everyone who works with him, has made an indelible impression on western filmmakers with Old boy, who won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2004. At first glance he looks like an unlikely match with le Carre, but it soon becomes clear how many of his recurring psychological concerns – revenge, confinement, the dynamics of domination and submission – are built. inside The Little Girl Drummer, waiting to be provoked for free. Park works in Korean but, as the actors discovered, he understands English and had a translator on hand to deliver his detailed notes. He also works hand in hand with his regular director of photography, Kim Woo-hyung. Each shot is meticulously constructed, choreographed and illuminated; there is no portable spontaneity here.

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Watching The Little Girl Drummer in your beautiful new adaptation to television, you wonder if the world really works that way. Credit:Jonathan Olley / AMC / Ink Factory

Skarsgard admits he had some misgivings about how that would work. "It was very different from what I did before, I come from a very different acting school, which is usually more organic, the camera following you instead of having to follow the camera," he says. "But I hugged it because it was an interesting challenge, you obviously have to make it real, you have to connect, you can never seem to be walking from point A to point B just because the camera wants you." And if some actor felt too clumsy, Park was always ready to consider alternative moves. "He is not precious or hard."

The struggle behind history is complicated territory, obviously. Le Carre has always made clear his political convictions – even more with age – but this version of The Little Girl Drummer is aimed at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as in 1979, with sober skepticism. For those in the face of murder, torture and revenge, the real issues of territory and sovereignty seem as remote as being beyond the point. It's all about this Semtex, that meeting at a train station, this interrogation, that body. "I do not really see a bad guy in this story – or a good guy," says Shannon. "These are two cultures that have justifiable grievances, they have always happened, but they are real people involved, not heroes and villains, they are just people."

What the little girl drummer

WHEN BBC First, Wednesday, 20:30


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