The Little Drummer Girl is AMC’s second limited series based on a John le Carré novel. The first, The Night Manager, was notable for three main reasons: One, it was stunning to look at; two, it was essentially an extended — and fruitless — James Bond audition for Tom Hiddleston; three, Hugh Laurie played an international arms dealer and at one point he stepped off of a bright red helicopter while wearing bright red pants, as though his character had color-coordinated his outfit and his preferred mode of air travel, which is a pretty tremendous flex that has been an inspiration to me ever since.
Like that series, The Little Drummer Girl is also notable for three main things: One, it too is very pretty to look at; two, it stars Florence Pugh, who is stealing every scene she’s in, usually from no-slouch actors like Michael Shannon and Alexander Skarsgård; and three, Florence Pugh is so good in The Little Drummer Girl that I’m listing it twice.
Pugh plays Charlie, a British actress who is recruited into spycraft by a team of Israeli intelligence officers led by Shannon’s Marty Kurtz. They are tracking a mysterious Palestinian named Khalil who is responsible for bombing a number of Israeli targets (or targets tied to Israel). Charlie is tasked with infiltrating Khalil’s organization after a crash course in tactics and family history from Skarsgård’s Becker. It’s all very twisty and turny and, if you’re familiar with le Carré’s work, none of this is wildly surprising, except for the part where it’s set in the Israel-Palestine conflict of the 1970s instead of the Cold War.
And the series is… pretty good. It’s pretty good! Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook directed all six episodes and they are stunning, with bright colors smashed against dull ones and frantic stretches of tense action punctuating slower stretches of tense preparation. Shannon is a cipher as Kurtz, all strategy and subterfuge and misdirection, and doing almost as much eyeglass-business as Shea Whigham in Homecoming, which will mean nothing to you if you haven’t seen both series, but is a very funny observation if you have. (You’re welcome.) Skarsgård is all simmering quiet intensity and I realized the other night that he looks kind of like if you crossed Ethan Hawke with Zach Woods, which you might not be able to unsee now. (I’m sorry.) The whole thing races toward a conclusion and is confusing and maddening and messy and fun. You could do worse in a binge-watch.