Adapted from the novel by John Le Carré and directed by Park Chan-wook, this six part miniseries stars Florence Pugh as actress Charlie Ross who, while in Greece with her theatre troupe, meets the enigmatic and alluring Gadi Becker (Alexander Skarsgård) and soon finds out that he’s part of an Israeli intelligence operation, headed by spymaster Martin Kurtz (Michael Shannon), that’s attempting to apprehend a notorious Palestinian terrorist who carried out an attack on an Israeli attaché. They recruit Charlie to their cause and work to “create a fiction”, making it seem as though she was the lover of one of the deceased terrorists with the end goal of planting her within the enemy ranks, drawing out the leader and stopping further attacks.
Definitively proving that Lady Macbeth was no flash in the pan, Florence Pugh is remarkable in this. As Charlie, she’s cool, confident, ballsy and very clever, never afraid to speak out and wholeheartedly throwing herself into the daunting task at hand, with a quick quip or two when necessary, and when things get increasingly uncertain and dangerous, she often relies on her instincts, intelligence and eidetic memory to see her through. And alongside her confident nature, there are plenty of times when she gets nervous, distraught or angry, often when she finds that certain people have their own secret agendas, and the final episode truly gets us wondering whether she’s shifting her allegiances or not – Pugh’s performance is that good, we have difficulty is ascertaining whether she’s simply playing the part or whether she’s truly switching sides.
Coming off the back of impressive turns in King Lear and Outlaw King, Pugh is clearly going from strength to strength these days, proving herself to be a most formidable talent and in this series, she gives a grounded, natural and multifaceted performance, making Charlie a very strong, charismatic, supportable and resourceful protagonist who we can easily get behind – a major boon to the series.
There are plenty of other characters in The Little Drummer Girl but the only properly noteworthy ones are those of Gadi Becker and Martin Kurtz. As Gadi, Alexander Skarsgård is effectively mysterious and intriguing and though he’s an enigma at the beginning of the series, not saying much and having a constant serious look on his face, he changes as the series goes on: he teaches Charlie all she needs to know (though keeping her in the dark most of the time) but as he does, he clearly falls for her and he gradually softens as we see how much he cares for her safety and how unwilling he is to put her in further danger. I’d say that this is the best performance that I’ve seen from Skarsgård so far as he does well in the role of “brooding, tall, handsome stranger” but his character also has a clear arc and he demonstrates this very well.
And as “master puppeteer” Martin Kurtz, the always fascinating Michael Shannon plays a part that’s different from anything that we’ve seen from him before; he’s a bit of a mystery, like Gadi, and he often comes across as a genuine, well-meaning and softly spoken guy, but he is the one pulling the strings and often appears to have ulterior motives, keeping things from everyone else and willing to go to any length to see his justice prevail. This is a chameleonic Shannon performance and he adds an air of gravitas and intrigue to the series.
Plus, Charles Dance is in the final two episodes. And is sure is a treat to hear those dulcet tones.
A large part of this series’ appeal is its visual style; through its costuming, cinematography and production design, the show immediately gives off that late 70s vibe and overall, The Little Drummer Girl is constantly intriguing to visually soak up and even if the story loses your interest, then there’s at least something appealing to look at on screen. Whether it’s Greek architecture or Florence Pugh’s luminous dresses.
The direction from Oldboy and The Handmaiden maestro Park Chan-wook is also beneficial since the series maintains a steady pace, even in periods where not much is happening, and there are plenty of incredibly tense, unpredictable and exciting scenes to be found throughout – he yet again proves himself to be a very capable director and he helms this particular ship very well, creating a captivating, tense and eventful drama.
And though I’ve never read, or had even previously heard of, le Carré’s original novel, this would seem to be a very effective adaptation from screenwriters Michael Lesslie and Claire Wilson. It’s a complex story that you really have to pay attention to as there are many character names thrown around and working out just who’s on who’s side, trying to figure out just what the grand plan is, can often be quite confusing but overall, the story is confidently written, full of incredibly strong dialogue and dramatic moments, and if you keep your attention focused, you should be able to keep up with all the twists and plot developments.
I mean, I think I was able to stay on top of it all and believe me, that’s saying something!