This review of The Little Drummer Girl contains spoilers.
The Little Drummer Girl Episode 2
Man, espionage looks glamorous. In episode two, Charlie was initiated into “the secret world” against the backdrop of a Vogue photoshoot.
Mossad’s digs in Athens are the stuff of Hockney paintings and glossy perfume ads. The villa. The view. The pool. The women in statement-colour maxi dresses. The tortured enigma that is Alexander Skarsgard’s character (Joseph, or Becker, or Peter, or Gary – did I hear them call him Gary?)… All presided over by Michael Shannon in a pair of joke shop specs, with a raging fire lit under him.
Shannon is great to watch as Marty Kurtz, grunting over baumkuchen in excellent cafes and hammering the theatre troupe allegory into the ground with every line. There’s enough screen presence in his moustache alone to look forward to his scenes. You want to see him, and you want to see him win.
Kurtz is clearly having a ball recruiting Charlie. The old ham relishes every twist and forced metaphor. He has a talent for the dramatic, and this week’s pre-credits flashback revealed that he’d cast her in his production long before she ever stepped foot in Greece. Hand-selected from surveillance photos at a pro-Palestine revolutionary forum, Charlie wasn’t only being groomed in the previous episode. Unbeknownst to her, she was already playing the part.
In costume too. The Acropolis kiss was a dress rehearsal of sorts. She’d already been auditioned on camera, and in the second half of this week’s episode, the performance proper began. Charlie is playing Charlie, a young radical in love with handsome Palestinian Michel (real name: Salim, real occupation: terrorist, real location: a padded cell at the Olympic Village in Munich).
The plan is for Joseph/Becker (or shall we just stick with Gary?) to be seen around Europe wearing Salim’s togs, driving his car, and clicking his fingers imperiously at waiters, so that Salim’s family have no idea that he’s been captured by the Israelis. Charlie is to play the latest Western recruit to Salim’s scheme—the new Swedish bomb-planting Anna, if you will—and therefore to gain entry to his brother Khalil’s thus-far impenetrable terrorist cell.
It’s a crazy scheme and, this being the 1970s (no Instagram/internet to put a spanner in the works, which is a pity really, when you look at that gorgeous villa) one that just might work. That is, if Salim hadn’t outwitted the Israelis by feeding them false information from his padded cell, thus sending Charlie driving a Mercedes full of Russian Semtex straight into a trap.
That was episode two’s cliff-hanger, and it certainly didn’t lack for gusto. “This is your debut in the theater of the real” pronounced Joseph, to a rising, dramatic score. That’s the sort of thing people say in The Little Drummer Girl. That’s the level of intensity on which it operates.
Not Charlie, she lights fags and argues, and laughs at how old Alexander Skarsgard is compared to the character he’s supposed to be playing. She’s a breath of blessedly fresh air among all the self-importance and metaphor. I like Charlie.
And Charlie likes Joseph. It seems clear that, though flattered and intrigued by all this spy stuff, she’s really going along with it all in the hope of a tumble with her mysterious new pal. And who can blame her.
Nobody could blame you if you developed an extra frown line this week trying to keep track of all the complicated reality vs fiction scenes. Dramatising the tale spun by Joseph/Becker/Michel/Salim/Gary about his and Charlie’s relationship for real was a neat trick to keep viewers engaged and push forward this story’s main thematic idea of the carouselling nature of art, truth, fiction, lies and identities. That triple mirror showed how many Charlies there are: the real one, the one she made up for dramatic effect, and the one Kurtz is having her play now.
It’s really going for it, The Little Drummer Girl, turning up all the dials and layering its spy story with arty narrative complexity. Whether audiences go along with it or decide it’s all too much, you can’t accuse this slick drama of half measures.