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TV Review: The Little Drummer Girl

The Little Drummer Girl, TV Review, AMC, Drama, John Le Carre, Alexander Skarsgard, Michael Shannon, Florence Pugh

SYNOPSIS:  Brilliant young actress Charlie (Pugh) strikes up an acquaintance with an intriguing stranger while on vacation in Greece, but it rapidly becomes apparent that his intentions are far from romantic.  The man is Becker (Skarsgård), an Israeli intelligence officer, who entangles her in a complex and high stakes plot orchestrated by Spymaster, Kurtz (Shannon). 

The Little Drummer Girl, TV Review, AMC, Drama, John Le Carre, Alexander Skarsgard, Michael Shannon, Florence Pugh

REVIEW: After the critical success of AMC's The Night Manager, the network moved forward with their second event series based on a novel by John Le Carre. While The Night Manager garnered awards for director Susanne Bier (BIRD BOX) and the talented cast that included Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, and Elizabeth Debicki, it was far from a guarantee that this unrelated follow-up would reach the same quality. To ensure that it would, they enlisted a trio of talented actors in Florence Pugh, Alexander Skarsgard, and the brilliant Michael Shannon. Behind the camera, they brought in Park Chan-wook whose OLDBOY and STOKER are amongst some of the most original and creative films of the last twenty years. The Little Drummer Girl is a very different story than The Night Manager but still an equally gripping story that announces Florence Pugh as a marquee talent who manages to standout amongst her very talented co-stars..

Unlike the 21st century setting of The Night Manager, The Little Drummer Girl takes place in 1979 Europe. Unlike the 1984 feature adaptation that starred Diane Keaton and Klaus Kinski, this version is incredibly faithful to the source novel. Following Charlie (Pugh), a left wing activist, the film sees her turn from struggling actress on the London stage to a spy embroiled in a massive operation to take down a Palestinian terrorist bombing Jews throughout Europe. Michael Shannon plays Kurtz, the Israeli leader of a secret organization tasked with stopping the attacks. Skarsgard is Charlie's handler who is brought back from retirement to aid in the operation. Using Charlie's talents as an actress, they plot to ingratiate her into the good graces of Khalil, the lead terrorist. This requires extensive preparation and plotting which becomes the bulk of the first half of the six episode series.

In many ways, this is the ultimate anti-spy story. For years, we have been trained by big budget studios into thinking that spies are all James Bond or Jason Bourne. The Little Drummer Girl draws more similarities to the brilliant FX series The Americans in showing the intense impact that living a double life can have on the human psyche. In fact, we see Skarsgard hint at the scars such work leaves on a person while we watch first hand how Pugh's Charlie succumbs to the pressures of what she truly believes versus what she is trained to believe. At the same time, we see the machinations that Shannon's Kurtz puts on to direct this major operation and how passionate he must be to defend his country. There are no weak links in the cast, especially Florence Pugh who is absolutely enthralling as young Charlie.

Pugh, who has garnered acclaim for her performances in the films LADY MACBETH and the upcoming OUTLAW KING, starts the series as a confident young woman who knows what she wants in her life despite masking the pains of her childhood. Once she meets Skarsgard's Becker, she is drawn into the world of espionage which tests her limits. Charlie becomes the most unlikely spy we have seen on screen before. There are no gadgets or massive action sequences on display; she only has her natural acting ability to protect her on her mission. The series deftly questions whether Charlie is acting or lying which is something we can ask of any of the characters in this series. No one is completely honest and that eventually makes us question whether we can trust that the good guys are truly the heroes of this story.

The Little Drummer Girl, TV Review, AMC, Drama, John Le Carre, Alexander Skarsgard, Michael Shannon, Florence Pugh

Park Chan-wook proves that he is more than capable of handling such a different type of story than his previous films with much more subtle camera work and editing that still manages to look more cinematic than most small screen productions. The Little Drummer Girl is not a loud film but one that uses a very deliberate pace to build to a devastating conclusion. Shot on location in Greece and Prague, the film looks like it could have been filmed forty years ago. With a musical score by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood and gorgeous cinematography by Kim Woo-hyung, The Little Drummer Girl may be the best looking series to air on AMC and rivals some of the efforts from HBO.

This is a series that requires patience. As well acted and executed as it is, the tension builds over several hours. You may not have the patience to wait for two episodes to find out how or why things are happening, but the payoff is definitely worth it. There is so much story here that you need in order to understand Charlie's journey that had the script been streamlined it would have ended up a very different tale. Regardless, this is a brilliant showcase for Florence Pugh and gives Michael Shannon one of the most understated performances of his career. If you want gunfights and car chases, you may want to look elsewhere. If you like your thrillers intricate and heartbreaking, this is a great series for you.

The Little Drummer Girl will air on three consecutive nights beginning November 19th on AMC.

Source: JoBlo.com

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