A tale of espionage and intrigue by Britain’s master spy novelist John le Carre is the latest TV series to grab the limelight usually reserved for movies.
The series based on his 1983 novel “The Little Drummer Girl”, directed by South Korea’s Park Chan-Wook, will hit TVs in the next month, but it got a big screen world premiere this week at the London Film Festival.
It was the only TV production to earn a coveted slot at the two-week international showcase, and its inclusion is seen as a further sign of the format’s growing status within the world of cinema.
“The landscape has shifted completely in the past decade,” Alexander Skarsgard, the Golden Globe-winning actor who plays a lead role in the mini-series, told AFP.
“It’s not like it used to be where TV actors want to graduate and move into features.
“It feels almost like the river’s flowing in the opposite direction now. A lot of amazing directors and writers gravitate towards television.”
– ‘Not a whizz-bang thing’ –
Park, who won the top prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival for “Oldboy”, directs all six episodes of the spy series in what is his TV debut.
Commissioned by the BBC and American pay-TV network AMC, “The Little Drummer Girl” is the latest Le Carre work adapted for television by this Anglo-American partnership, which was behind hit TV series “The Night Manager”, crafted from the British author’s 1993 spy novel.
But Le Carre — the pen name of David John Moore Cornwell — warned that this follow-up, which will also be broadcast worldwide after netting various distribution deals in London, may struggle to match its predecessor’s broad appeal.
“It’s not a whizz-bang thing and it has a much more serious content in some ways,” he said at the premiere of “The Little Drummer Girl” on Sunday.
Set in the late 1970s, it follows a fiery actress and idealist — played by English actress Florence Pugh — who is recruited by Skarsgard’s character to become a double agent.
She joins an Israeli counter-terrorism unit infiltrating a Palestinian terror cell carrying out bombings across Europe.
Pugh said she was drawn to the project for the “mind-blowing” chance to work with Park.
She told AFP that audiences increasingly appreciate quality TV because “you have time with these characters, you really get to love them.”
“It’s not over in an hour and a half. You are invested in these people,” Pugh added.
– ‘Looks terrific on the big screen’ –
Cannes, the world’s most prestigious film festival, last year allowed TV series among its offerings for the first time.
London has included small screen work in previous years, showing episodes of British sci-fi anthology “Black Mirror” in 2016 and American crime drama “Mindhunter” last year.
Tricia Tuttle, artistic director of its 2018 showcase, said their inclusion stemmed from high-calibre TV remaining “very exciting” and attracting top filmmakers.
“(They) are working in ways we often think of as more cinematic — with story, image, design and sound working intertextually, with real sophistication,” she said.
“This kind of work looks terrific on the big screen. And festivals can provide audiences with that ‘one-of-a-kind’ collective cinematic experience of scale.”
Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon, who plays the head of the anti-terrorism unit in “The Little Drummer Girl”, agreed TV allows storytelling details to be retained in a way often impossible in a 90-minute movie.
However, he added films still held a special appeal, allowing filmmakers to be artistically adventurous.
“I think television can’t help but be a little bit more oriented towards mass consumption,” he told AFP.
“There is the possibility in film to… take a bit more risk.”