Some say John le Carre a.k.a. David Cornwell, is the best spy genre author in the 20th Century. Some say he is one of the best novelists of the 20th Century, as his contribution to literature reaches well beyond making the spy genre mainstream. All can agree that this prolific author's work has translated very well to television and motion pictures for over the past 50 years. With Our Kind of Traitor makings its debut in July 2016, with an all star cast, it's a good time to examine the top 10 le Carre adapted works.
10) Constant Gardner (2005): Ralph Fiennes, Bill Nighy, and Rachel Weisz all star in this critically and financially successful film about a cover-up surrounding the convergence of corporate greed and foreign policy in sub-Saharan Africa. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and Weisz won an Oscar and Golden Globe for her performance.
9) Russia House (1990): With the collapse of the Cold War, all things Russia was in style. It has the distinction of being only the second American motion picture to be filmed in the Soviet Union. It's bolstered by the star power of Sean Connery, Michelle Pfieffer, and Roy Scheider, Connery plays the head of a publishing house who gets a crash course as a spy after he is approached and earns the trust of a Soviet nuclear physicist who is trying desperately to avoid war. This film was mostly well-received by the critics.
8) A Most Wanted Man (2014): Tapping into current events mixing refugees, secret surveillance, and Radical Islamic terrorists and their funding sources, this film largely is unknown despite a star studded cast. It is Phillip Seymour Hoffman's last movie; the rest of the cast includes Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, and Robin Wright. Definitely worth a look.
7) The Little Drummer Girl (1984): Diane Keaton seems miscast in this story of a 30ish American actress working for Israeli intelligence to infiltrate the PLO to ultimately kill a terrorist. Earning mixed reviews and the uneven acting doesn't bring out the full potential le Carre had in the novel.
6) Our Kind of Traitor (2016): Rarely does a film have the potential or start power that this film does, but it deserves recognition. Again showing versatility le Carre tackles the subject of international money laundering by large scale criminal organizations. Starring Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard, Damian Lewis, and Naomie Harris. It has the potential to be a huge summer hit.
5) A Tailor of Panama (2001): What starts as the run-of-the mill spy thriller about the last days of American control of the Panama Canal, the film soon harkens the watcher back to the classic Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene. The lies build one on top of another as le Carre shows his adaptability as a novelist in the void left by the end of the Cold War. It stars Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis and Brendan Gleeson. Also of note is the film début of a young Daniel Radcliff. This title is far too often overlooked.
4) The Looking Glass War (1969): Ralph Richardson and Anthony Hopkins star in the work about an aging British intelligence group seeking to regain their past glories of World War II and relevance against rival British intelligence agency by launching a covert mission behind the Iron Curtain. Things do not go as planned.
3) Night Manager (2016): Tom Hiddleson, Hugh Laurie, and Elisabeth Debicki star in this BBC and AMC Network miniseries that was hugely popular with viewers and very positively received by the critics. The story deals with an arms dealer who has the illegal and very active support of arms dealers and government officials despite the death many innocents. The plot is taut the acting is exceptional.
2) Tinker Tailor Soldier (1979 and 2011): With any other author this could easily have been the pinnacle of his work, but not with le Carre. Both versions the motion picture and the mini-series are excellent. Agent, double-agent, political grasping, betrayal, murder are all present in this work that features the venerable character of George Smiley at the top of his game. Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Ciaran Hinds all turn in magnificent performances in the film. The mini-series features Alec Guinness as a brilliant Smiley.
1) The Spy that Came in from the Cold (1965): Easily the masterpiece of a long storied career. This film clearly shows the ambiguity and betrayals of those who toil in the world of espionage. The grittiness and desperation of the characters is palatable. Starring Richard Burton and supported by Claire Bloom and Oskar Werner, this film made le Carre a household name and, in part enabled him to become a full time writer. This picture was a rare commercial and critical success. Both Burton and the Art Directors earned the 1966 Academy Award. It also won the Golden Globe for Werner; and took home 4 BAFTAs.