The first few episodes of the BBC’s adaptation of John Le Carre’s The Little Drummer Girl, adapted for TV by the same team who did the astonishing The Night Manager a couple of years ago.
Many watchers who fancied seeing something similar have since switched off, but for those that really enjoy a good spy drama from Director Park Chan-wook. There are some truly awesome performances, particularly from Hollywood favourite Michael Shannon, whose slimy spymaster is equal parts hilarious and intense, with his regular yells of ‘Shimon’ and his disconcertingly fraught and changeable conversations.
Alright, so you do have to suspend disbelief at times, but still The Little Drummer Girl is an exquisite drama. However, many watchers on Twitter have complained about how complicated the show is. To this I say: If you want something easy, go watch Pingu. The Little Drummer Girl is a spy drama; spies, by their very nature, live complicated lives, and portraying these is bound to be a little confusing.
Also, you have the issue of creative licence. I’ve just bought the book of The Little Drummer Girl, as I’ve never read it before and the series has wet my appetite, but having been a fan of Le Carre for years I know that he often uses characters with multiple identities and pseudonyms, as well as narrative devices such as flashbacks and swift transitions between time and place. In televising the novel Chan-wook has utilised a number of filming techniques to keep his viewers entranced. This can confuse some, but it’s designed to keep you watching and make you really pay attention.
That’s the key problem, in my opinion: in a world of easy watching, where shows can be paused and re-joined quickly and easily, viewers are turned-off by the idea of having to really pay attention. You can’t go off and call your sister, make yourself a snack or check Facebook before returning to The Little Drummer Girl. By the time you get back they’ll be using different names, in a different country and they’ll be a completely different threat.
Previously there was also a film version, and I’ve not seen this, but I suspect that the issues remain largely the same; this is a grown up drama that you cannot tune in and out of easily.
Look at the end of the day, I reckon a big part of the problem is that there’s no Tom Hiddleston equivalent in this adaptation. Alexander Skarsgård is no substitute, and as such viewers can’t stare at his arse whilst not following the plot. Let’s face it, both dramas were equally confusing and deceptive, but the introduction of a Hollywood star made many keep watching The Night Manager long after they lost interest in the plot. The Little Drummer Girl does not have this benefit, but as a stylish, beautifully crafted adaptation there’s nothing currently on TV that can hold a candle to it.