|Is this the face of Bernard Samson?|
In 1988, the 13-part Game, Set and Match was broadcast only once on ITV and removed from our screens, Len having withdrawn his rights to commercial distribution due to his dissatisfaction with the casting. It's never been on commercial DVD (only bootlegs available) and as a result, Bernard Samson has not had the same exposure as a character in British spy fiction as perhaps the depth of his story deserved. The planned TV series may change that.
The news yesterday is exciting if you're a fan of the original stories (and the TV series), but it also brings to mind a number of challenges and questions, the answers to which will shape the end result. Such as:
- Who will play Bernard Samson? It was the (mis)casting of Ian Holm as Bernard Samson in the 1988 series which contributed to Len Deighton's decision to withdraw broadcast rights. The story pivots around Bernard, so the casting has to be right. Which British actor has the capacity to bring to life the character of a spy who discovers that all those he trusts have lied and betrayed him in some way?
- How much more significant does Fiona's story become with all volumes being covered? Spy Sinker, the sixth book, replayed the story of the first five novels from Fiona Samson's perspective and reveals a number of truths about her decision to take on the task of deep-lying agent in Berlin, her relationship with her husband and her family relationships which arguably prepared her for the loneliness of being alone in the heart of the enemy.
- Can the producers successfully recapture the grimy reality of Cold War Berlin? Most of the iconic sites one associates with Cold War Berlin - not least, the anti-fascist protection barrier or Berlin Wall as its was better known, are gone. CGI is clearly the way forward, but a good production designer will be needed to imagine what Leuschner's was like, the cells in the Normannenstrasse or the Kosinski estate in Poland, which has an important function in the latter part of the triple trilogy.
- Dicky Cruyer's character is a crucial counterfoil and need to be done right. As the reader works through the nine books, the initial perception of Cruyer's character changes and one understands just how crucial his role in on Bernard's career and subsequent downfall and re-emergence, and just how much Bernard's critical opinion of his skills is off target.
- The story is told largely from Samson's perspective. How will the screen writer and director address that point. We know, when the novels are read (particularly Spy Sinker), that Bernard is not always a reliable witness and analysis of what is going on around him - one of the factors in deciding to build a plot around his naiveté - so how much of the narrative will be driven by his perspective, and how much will the other characters be centre stage. Is this really the story of Fiona Samson, rather than Bernard?
- How much of the back story will be foregrounded? In the last novel, Charity, the reader is exposed through Silas Gaunt to the full picture of the Machiavellian scheme dreamt up by Gaunt and the DG for which Fiona was the key and Samson the patsy she duped. How much of this plot developed will be revealed in sequence? Or, how much of the story which explains why field agent Bernard is stuck in a desk role (which the 1988 TV series covered extensively at the start of the story)
- What gets left out? Even with 18 one-hour (45 mins effectively) episodes, there's still not enough time to cover all nine novels. The ITV adaptation took 13 episodes to cover just Berlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match! So, how does the screenwriter compress this multi-layered story? Will he downplay much of the Kosinski narrative in Poland? Will they pass over Spy Sinker and the hidden realities revealed in that book? Will the Prettymans be relegated to brief walk-on parts?
- What is the core theme which the screenwriter will hook the story upon? Is it personal or matrimonial betrayal? The ruthlessness of London Central? The deceit at the heart of London Central? The love between Bernard and Fiona which shapes both character's responses to the actions played upon them? The ending of the Cold War?
- Does the Cold War (which ended nearly 24 years ago) still have resonance for the general reader? Is the spy novel now all about the Internet, shadow cells, al Qaeda and North Korea? Will the average TV viewer remember the Cold War and its impact on the western world? Or does it really matter - is it actually the stories and the characters that will grab people's attention?