As if to fill the great gap of serial thrills left by The Night Manager on our Sunday night TV screens, another instalment of John Le Carre arrives, handsomely packaged for the big screen.
Instead of building its tensions and global spy complexities over six parts, we now get the increasingly-familiar blend of spies, corrupt politicians, dirty money and civilian innocence all condensed into one hit, a sort of nutri-bullet version, for spy fans on the go.
Our Kind of Traitor** boasts impeccable credentials and an all-star cast. Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris are an ordinary couple, Perry and Gail, on holiday in Marrakesh when they become involved with a partying Russian mafia accountant Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), who gives them a furtive message to smuggle to the British authorities.
Suddenly, poetry professor Perry is swept up in MI6 interrogations and a plot, lead by Damian Lewis’ posh spook, to entrap the Islington North MP and an oligarch called The Prince, during a game at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium (just about the most exciting thing that’s happened there all season, if you ask me.)
When that’s botched, and with mild-mannered professor Perry their only point of contact, MI6 need him then to go to Paris to ‘bump’ into their informant Dima once again. And then play tennis with him at the Club des Rois.
Don’t know about you, but I’d have walked away by now. Come to think of it, I’d have walked out of the film by now, too. What a load of preposterous old rot it is. The Night Manager, I loved – but after 20 minutes of this I reached what can only be called “peak Le Carre”.
There are yet more Old Etonians whispering in corridors, shady European henchmen, smart hotels and a trail of billions in blood money that leads all the way up to the poshest people in the City of London, via various other improbably dull Euro-locations, such as Berne (where this is, nevertheless, the most exciting thing that’s ever happened.)
McGregor is actually quite good at playing the gormless innocent and you sort of believe Perry – is anyone still called Perry? – might find this world of Russian machismo quite thrilling. Or more thrilling than a lecture on Tennyson, at least.
But Gail? Naomie Harris is so beautiful and glamorous and she’s supposed to be a successful barrister, so quite why she’s going along for this ridiculous ride is baffling. There’s a tenuous story layer, supplied by scriptwriter Hossein Amini, about their marriage being on the rocks and this adventure being just the thing to bring them closer. Whatever happened to chocolates and flowers?
Unlike the corrupt politicians and British aristocrats on the Russian accountant’s list (tattooed around his neck, of course), I didn’t buy any of it. Not the location hopping, the flashy reflections in the Eurostar windows, the big gangster who just wants to save his wife (a practically silent Saskia Reeves) and kids, nor the buttoned-down, departmentally-hamstrung Hector who reads the London Review of Books and drinks “single malt”.
Le Carre likes to make us believe the modern world is like this, a scam on all the little people and only vaguely held together by the sheer good manners of a few decent fellows in Whitehall. This time, it’s a nod and a wink too far.
While Skarsgard throws himself into the role of desperate defector with his customary guts and gusto, little else feels genuine. Dima might be what the chaps in the service call Our Kind of Traitor; but this hollow romp isn’t My Kind of Movie.