To coincide with the new television adaptation of The Little Drummer Girl (BBC 1, 2018), I have uploaded the accepted manuscript of my article ‘From Reverential to “Radical” Adaptation: Reframing John le Carré as “Quality” Television Brand from A Perfect Spy
(BBC 2, 1987) to The Night Manager (BBC 1, 2016)’. For those interested, this provides some backstory to the current renaissance of le Carré on television through the new adaptations by The Ink Factory.
Abstract: This article explores shifts in how John le Carré’s novels have been interpreted as prestige television adaptations, with A Perfect Spy (BBC 2) and The Night Manager (BBC 1) as central case studies. It examines changes in how the author’s profile has been mobilised, and more broadly what the differences between these adaptations reveal about the production cultures that created them and the changing international landscape in which such dramas have been developed. Firstly, A Perfect Spy is analysed as an in-house BBC production which utilises the characteristics of heritage drama to portray a crisis in the traditional spy hero of the John Buchan mould, providing an intimate view of a man destroyed by contradictory inheritances. Yet I argue that the adherence to heritage resulted in an overtly reverential adaptation, abandoning the novel’s formally experimental features and blunting much of its impact. This is contrasted with The Night Manager, developed within an increasingly globalised independent production sector by members of le Carré’s family with BBC at a greater remove. This serial, described by its production team as a ‘radical’ adaptation, breaks free of the overt heritage imagery of prior le Carré adaptations with a focus on the glamorous jet-setting super-rich, even as the theme of inheritance seems more relevant than ever at a production level. I explore the impact of this on decisions to rewrite the narrative and impose a more heroic ending, thereby rejecting the moral ambiguity with which le Carré had long been associated.
The article was originally published in Adaptation, Volume 10, Issue 3 (23
November 2017): https://doi.org/10.1093/adaptation/apx005. To cite this article in academic work, please refer to the original.