TV review: The Little Drummer Girl, episode 3

The plot thickens in the BBC's adaptation of John Le Carre's spy thriller. And Jenni Frazer is shivering.



Charlie, the mistress of dissimulation, is having a fine old time belting down European motorways on her way to Salzburg on her first mission for Marty Kurtz’s motley Mossad crew. I nearly wrote “bombing down the motorways”, but in view of the car’s contents, that might not be terribly appropriate.

Marty might be the puppet-master of the Israeli team, but not everybody’s strings are pulling in the same direction. Gadi, for example, is not keen to take direction from Marty and often appears to run roughshod through his leader’s instructions. Shimon, Marty’s over-eager disciple, gets responsibility and then doesn’t know what to do with it.

Still, Charlie — beautifully played by Florence Pugh — is having a high old time. Gadi, having prepped her to within an inch of her life about the attitudes and responses of the Palestinian, Salim, with whom she is ordered to fall in love, makes sure she is well prepared for her long drive to Salzburg. Into her eager paws he counts out wads of currency, Austrian, Yugoslavian, Greek and German. One day, Charlie, there will be no need for this, although with Brexit on the horizon you just never know.

From Charlie’s point of view — and, indeed, from the viewer’s — it is difficult to know when Gadi (Alexander Skarsgard) is being Gadi and when he is being Salim. Sometimes he reaches out and caresses her, but is that his Palestinian alter ego, or his real Israeli identity?

Meanwhile, back at Mossad’s HQ for the duration of this operation, Marty decides it’s time to shake the truth out of Salim. Marty (a fabulously grizzled Michael Shannon) believes in showing Salim the nuts and bolts behind his capture. He knows Salim (Amir Khoury) has misdirected the team to Salzburg, but he needs to know where Charlie and her deadly cargo should really be going.

Salim coughs up. And in the days before mobile phones, we are left wondering just how the change of destination is to be communicated to Charlie.

In a delicious little scene Charlie and Rachel (Simona Brown) meet “unexpectedly” at the reception desk of a Yugoslav hotel where Charlie is checking in for the night. And what could be more “natural” than two friends sitting down in the lobby for an enjoyable game of Scrabble? So nothing is written down to incriminate, but the correct information is spelled out and received.

So Charlie arrives in Kleinalm, the true destination, where we even see a glimpse of John le Carre playing an elderly waiter. And in due course the car is driven off by members of the Palestinian cell who are working for Khalil, the mastermind of the terrorist bombers.

And here is our old acquaintance from Episode One, the screaming psychopath Anna (Iben Akerlie), who, when caught by the Israelis — let us say, does not go quietly.

Charlie, meanwhile, is thrilled at the success of her first operation. “I enjoyed it, I loved it. Is that what happens, it gets addictive?” she crows to Gadi. But Gadi, who is being Israeli now, loses patience with Charlie’s right-on politics and her attitude to the Middle East. “Being naive doesn’t absolve you,” he snarls, dragging her out of the apartment to read a plaque outside. And suddenly, the penny drops as to where the team is holed up — and why.

“Terror is theatre”, Salim tells his eager acolytes, Charlie among them, at a consciousness-raising event for Palestinians back in the UK. By the episode’s end one can only agree. Shiver…

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