Why John le Carré believes new BBC drama Little Drummer Girl won't be as big as The Night Manager

Jamie Johnson
John le Carré and Florence Hugh at the premiere of

John le Carré says he does not expect the BBC's upcoming adaptation of his novel The Little Drummer Girl to be a The Night Manager-esque smash hit  - because its female lead doesn't have the appeal of Hugh Laurie. 

Speaking ahead of the premiere of the new series at the BFI London Film Festival, the author said: "I want it to be a different kind of success, we may not have such a vast audience but I think we will have a very thoughtful one, a very grateful one, because it's a beautiful, slow, evolving story.

"With The Night Manager we all fell in love with Roper, the villain. Hugh Laurie enchanted us all, all you wanted to be was Hugh Laurie if you're a man, if you're this lady (played by Florence Pugh) you're not thinking, 'I wish it were me', you're thinking, 'Thank god it's not me'."

The Little Drummer Girl tells the story of Charlie, a British actress, dragged into the murky world of espionage after a holiday romance with an Israeli intelligence officer, played by Alexander Skarsgård. 

The action takes place in the late 1970s, and deals with the escalating conflict between Israel and Palestine. It is one of very few Le Carré stories to have a female protagonist. 

Actors Michael Shannon, Florence Pugh and Alexander Skarsgard, together with director Park Chan-wook and author John le Carre, at the world premiere of "The Little Drummer Girl" Credit: REUTERS/Simon Dawson

The filming of the spy drama was nearly derailed when the crew was initially banned from shooting at ancient Greek ruins.

Key scenes in 1983 novel take place at the Acropolis in Athens, home to the Parthenon, but producers hit a bump in the road when they were refused permission to film at the Sounion archaeological site 43 miles south of the Greek capital.

Greece’s Central Archaeological Council said that the production would be too disruptive, with too many people involved, so said no to the film-makers.

However, a second request was submitted, and the proposals went all the way to the top of the Greek government, with prime minister Alexis Tsipras giving the green light.

Simon Cornwell, le Carré’s son and producer of The Little Drummer Girl said: “Shooting at night on the Acropolis was a big deal. Flying a drone over the Acropolis was a first in the 2,500 years since it was built.” 

“It went up to ministerial level and even Prime Ministerial-level as a decision.

“Once the Greek government committed to letting us do it, they were incredibly supportive.”  He added that the “temporary hiccup” was “subsequently resolved.”  

A scene from "The Little Drummer Girl" filmed at the Acropolis in Greece Credit: Jonathan Olley

Greece has been on a drive to market itself as a viable destination in which to shoot films, and it is hoped that the six-part mini-series will be an advertisement for filming in the country.

Some scenes in The Little Drummer Girl which are set in Lebanon were actually filmed just north of Athens in Eleusis, while the Nikaia neighborhood in Athens was used to portray Palestine.

Money was believed to be a factor in swinging Greece's decision to allow the filming, with the backing of the BBC and US channel AMC providing a substantial budget.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Le Carrésaid that he had become frustrated with other people adapting his books, and in 1984, when a film of The Little Drummer Girl was made, he thought his half sister, actress Charlotte Cornwell should play Charlie as the character was based on her.

“I thought she was ideal for the part,” said Le Carré.

“But they cast Diane Keaton instead which was about as silly a piece of casting as you could get.”

Le Carré has kept up his habit of making cameo appearances in adaptations of his books, and eagle eyed viewers will spot him playing a waiter attending to customers on a café's terrace.

The new series airs on October 28, with BBC One giving it the coveted 9pm slot on a Sunday.