Photo by Jonathan Olley/Ink Factory/AMC
I spent the three nights leading up to Thanksgiving watching over 7½ hours of “The Little Drummer Girl,’ a six-episode mini-series on AMC.
Then I spent another two hours the night after Thanksgiving watching a 1984 movie version of the same John le Carré psychological spy novel.
Let’s first dispense with the main recommendation for the AMC series: Florence Pugh (pictured above), who shines as Charlie, a young British actress recruited by Israelis in 1979 to pretend she’s a Palestinian sympathizer. It’s part of an elaborate scheme to snare a top terrorist. But which side, if any, is Charlie really on?
For the first three-quarters or so of the new production, the mini-series length works well in conveying the scope and accuracy of a complicated novel. While motivations, character development, and personal interrelationships are glossed over in the earlier movie version, the mini-series provides the time to really get inside Charlie’s head.
But, as I understand also occurs with le Carré’s book, the complex plot in the mini-series gets pretty confusing toward the end. I found myself mystified about exactly what was going on.
However, in the more streamlined movie version, I had no problem at all following the final half-hour of the movie.
So, here’s a plan. Watch the first three-quarters of the story in the 2018 version, and the final quarter in the 1984 version. Just be ready to pretend that a miscast Diane Keaton is British, not American, and that she’s in her young 20s rather than in her mid-30s. Those two traits come naturally to Pugh — and that’s how it is in the book.
One more thing: While the 1984 version was a Hollywood movie, it’s the 2018 mini-series, co-produced by the BBC mind you, that tacks on an unnecessary Hollywood-type ending.
I’m guessing the book’s darker and more believable finale, nailed perfectly in the 34-year-old movie, would have been too much of a downer heading into AMC’s heavily promoted “Best Christmas Ever.”
That month-long event, now underway, features films like “Elf,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and…“The Little Drummer Boy Book II.” No Charlie, Israeli agents or Palestinian terrorists in the latter, just Roman soldiers, a kid named Aaron and three wise men.