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Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Current Cinema - Our Kind of Traitor - John Le Carre's 22nd novel on screen. Advance notes of an invalid.....

I expected to go see the Our Kind of Traitor, last weekend when it opened, but illness, the dreaded Jolly Cinema lurgi which swept through the ageing Bologna crowd like a, well, virus, has laid me low...So what's on my mind as I sweat it out for a couple more days....

Le Carre has been a screen regular though the formats have diverged from large to small and currently back again.  "Our Kind of Traitor" was published in 2010 and I would have read it within a few weeks of its appearance in the shops. I can't remember it at all so I guess I've assigned it to one of those Le Carre books, potboilers almost, where the master has a small to medium sized bee in his bonnet about something or other. In this case it's the money market and the intelligence community and the unseemly connections between them. Le Carre's biographer Adam Sisman devotes only a handful of pages to it in his volume of 600pp+*. Sisman also dredges up a review which contains a bit of a patronising put down of the book and he quotes from this notice in The Guardian by Christopher Tayler: Somerset Maugham, another writer of dark spy stories, once had a character say of an aspiring grand old man of letters: 'It is no good his thinking that it is enough to write one or two masterpieces; he must provide a pedestal for them of forty or fifty works of no particular consequence'. Our Kind of Traitor may fall into the second category; but its good see Le Carre having fun as he reinforces the pedestal under his classic productions.

Still the Le Carre juices are pumping. Just before the new film there was the triumph of the BBC-TV adaptation of The Night Manager, a triumph largely hidden thus far in this neck of the woods by screening only on the BBC's cable channel where its audience would be measured at best in tens of thousands. Presumably this business model will have plans for DVD and free to air TV release over the course of coming months.

Post the fall of the Berlin Wall, there has been a certain scatter gun approach adopted by the master plotter. His eye and ear pick up a buzz about something egregious and, even to the point of white hot anger, his plots go to the corrupt heart of some act of political, diplomatic or economic bastardry. The intelligence communities post the fall of the wall have new enemies, new challenges, infinitely more capacity to track people down but the same old venality. Nowadays they have ever fewer restrictions on what they are allowed to get up to in the service of the state. Indeed, as I read Ron Suskind's book,"The One Per cent Doctrine", a significant challenge to the intelligence community is from politicians who want the spooks to respond on the post-2001 basis of if there is a one per cent chance of something happening then it has to be treated as a certainty. This allows for much trampling of rights and evermore very amoral behaviour.

But the basics remain. Betrayal is still at the heart of Le Carre's world and defecting to the other side still the modus operandi. Disappointment is the constant undercurrent. ....
Susanna White

...and so the reins are now in the hands of Susanna White, a name known to denizens of the movies for her sterling work on Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang (UK, 2010), not a film with which I have crossed paths. However a closer scrutiny of her TV work indicates a couple of things of the highest quality, most notably four eps of the David Simon/Ed Burns HBO series Generation Kill and the entirety of Parade's End, Tom Stoppard's adaptation of the Ford Madox Ford novel. High standard work and excellent prep for a Le Carre outing.....

More to come....

* John Le Carre The Biography, Adam Sisman, Bloomsbury, UK, 2015, 652 pp




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