OUR KIND OF TRAITOR, UK, 2016. Starring Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgaard, Damian Lewis, Naomie Harris, Jeremy Northam, Mark Gattis, Khalid Abdalla, Saskia Reeves. Directed by Susanna White. 108 minutes. Rated MA ( Strong coarse language).
Our Kind of Traitor is another film version of John Le Carre spy novel. The film versions are always welcome – although some audiences may find this bit lower key.
It Is over 50 Years since John Le Carre began writing novels and films were made. It is half a century since Richard Burton was The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. This means that Le Carre has taken his readership through the decades of the Cold War, to the collapse of communism, through British espionage, through Russian espionage, to wider horizons including Africa and more internationally with The Night Manager Manager and this film.
Audiences who like a variety of international locations will enjoy an opening in Moscow, the setting of the drama in Morocco, transfer to London, Swiss variety with the use of locations in Berne, including the Einstein Museum, and then out into the Alps.
By 2016, the subject of the Le Carre story is International money laundering, this time by the Russian Mafia who are on the lookout for establishing a bank to do their laundering in London. It seems they have several British politicians in their pocket – the kind of mercenary traitor that they can rely on. On the other hand, they have a traitor from within their own ranks, the man who manages the money and signs the documents, not their kind of traitor but one who could be welcomed by MI6.
At the centre of the film is a rather quiet British couple, on holiday in Morocco, some tensions in their marriage, but drawn into international intrigue which actually makes better persons of them, standing on principle and helping others and drawing them closer to each other. Ewan McGregor is Perry, not your everyday hero but the everyday citizen who can become one. He teaches Politics at London University. His wife, Gail, played by Naomie Harris, is a prominent London barrister.
Into their lives comes the boisterous, extraordinarily boisterous Stellan Skarsgaard as the Mafia accountant, Dima. Very early in the film, he passes a memory stick to Perry who experiences MI6 officials at Heathrow on his return. The leader is Hector, played by Damian Lewis who got in a lot of rehearsal time for this kind of role in the TV series, Homeland. He has his eye on the chief treacherous British politician, Jeremy Northam, but is unable to persuade his boss, Mark Gattis, to give him permission to pursue the case.
Which means that he does and there are meetings in Paris, tracking of the Russian criminals, rendezvous after a tennis match with Dima giving information but wanting his wife and children to be taken to England and protection.
But, not enough information handed over, so a transition to Switzerland where the film becomes more suspenseful and with some action.
Because this is a Le Carre story, there is not a completely happy ending – but, symbolically and with some subtlety, the final image is a contemporary version of T. S. Elliott’s lines from The Waste Land about the processiion of people over London Bridge, and the implied unsettlement in society.
Studiocanal. Released July 14th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.