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Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Le Carre On Screen (4) - Eddie Cockrell fondly remembers the world premiere of John Boorman's adaptation of THE TAILOR OF PANAMA

We’ve just completed a major move and it’s the tail end of the school holidays so I’ve been otherwise engaged for a while. But I did want to weigh in, however belatedly, on the earlier post soliciting thoughts on the film versions of John Le Carré’s work. I’d like to put in a good word for John Boorman’s 2001 comic thriller The Tailor of Panama.

Co-written by Le Carré, Boorman and Andrew Davies, this remains a wicked satire of the spy genre in general and colonial imperialism in particular. It’s as if the three men laboured particularly hard to gleefully subvert the tropes of Carré’s world of high-stakes, cloak-and-dagger machinations. And they succeeded: the interplay between Pierce Brosnan’s amoral MI6 spy Andy Osnard and Geoffrey Rush’s title raconteur Harry Pendel is comic timing at its best (one interchange takes place on a vibrating hotel bed, another as they dance a tango), and the eccentric supporting cast includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Brendan Gleeson, who had just garnered acclaim in Boorman’s previous film, The General, (UK, 1998), playwright Harold Pinter and recently deceased character actor Jon Polito.

A few days after the world premiere of the film at the 2001 Berlin Film Festival, David Stratton and I met for dinner at a Czech restaurant we liked on the Ku’damm. He proudly displayed a handwritten note from Boorman on hotel stationery thanking David for the positive Variety review and proclaiming that on the strength of it Columbia had increased the number of screens for the US release. Subsequently, it was greeted with glowing reviews but did lacklustre business. One other bit of trivia, if memory serves: it was during the production of this film that the young Daniel Radcliffe, making his big-screen debut as one of Pendel’s kids, got the news he’d landed the role of Harry Potter.

John Boorman
By the film’s release, Le Carré was enjoying the success of the just-published “The Constant Gardener” and Davies went on to co-write Bridget Jones’ Diary (Sharon Maguire, UK, 2001), which, come to think of it, isn’t too tonally different from Tailor. As for Boorman, he remains, I think, along with Nicolas Roeg, the most fearless living British director. But then, I quite like both Exorcist II:The Heretic (USA, 1977) and Beyond Rangoon (UK, 1995), so your mileage may vary. Just remember: these Boorman lesser works, in spite of the misinterpretation and derision that inevitably greet such fundamentally humanist films in a jaded marketplace, are smarter and wiser than many filmmakers’ best.

For earlier entries by Geoff GardnerSimon Taaffe and Rod Bishop click on the names. Contributions welcome. Nostalgia permitted.

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