|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In 1988, the 13-part Game, Set and Match was broadcast only once on ITV and removed from our screens, Len having withdrawn his rights to commercial distribution due to his dissatisfaction with the casting.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?
Any blog readers with their own responses to these questions, or their own ideas about how the new series could do the books justice, are welcome - encouraged, even - to share their views in the comments page.
My apologies. My post which appears elsewhere should be here. Hence, I am copying it.ReplyDelete
Before you listed your 9 questions, I was thinking of questions similar to the following:
“Can the producers successfully recapture the grimy reality of Cold War Berlin?”
“Does the Cold War (which ended nearly 24 years ago) still have resonance for the general reader?”
Taking the first question, the simple answer is NO, for the simple reason that the audience need to be middle-aged with a critical knowledge of the cold war. Very difficult to get that many , shall I say fanatic followers, who like the kind of story lines that emerge from Deighton novels. Nuances without Bond- like actions will hold very little interest to the younger generation. I know a few friends in the middle-age category, but even at that time only a small core of them were sophisticated in their understanding of the cold war. For example, in early 1980s, I went with two of those who had had general interest in the cold war to visit West Berlin, having dissuaded them from visiting Paris during the Whitsun Bank Holiday Week End. But after a brief visit to see the Wall, they were more interested in enjoying the nightlife in West Berlin! I was the only one who crossed into East Berlin having got a brief visit visa-based on my academic connections at the Technical University of Dresden. This was to savour the cold war eerie atmosphere of the place for a day! If that was the case with the above two, the answer to the second question now is evident.
The story lines could be similar to the approach adopted in recent James Bond films- to fit the main characters, and more importantly contemporary menace manifesting in London/ England for example to justify deploying a MI6 spy to get involved in settings in those places outwith Britain. The excuse then could be - something similar to the deaths of two Russian expatriates in London- one of them recent, and the other was through Polonium-210 poisoning, the perpetrating cell moving to places to hide their involvement. They could also throw in the mysterious death of the MI6 officer in a Chelsea flat for example. This is at a time when Britain is disengaging militarily from Germany!! About, Mexico City and California? Could be industrial espionage by agents from Russia/China. Gets more complicated as we start thinking!!!
This is great news, although it would be forever before it would be available to see in the U.S. I haven't finished the 9 book series yet, still have the last trilogy to go. This has me eager to read those soon.ReplyDelete
Simon, I completely disagree. I think the Cold War DOES still have resonance with viewers. Look at the success of The Americans on FX for proof of that in America, or the box office of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in Britain. The story just has to be framed in the right way. And the Samson books offer so many possible points of entry, I'm sure a successful screenwriter like Beaufoy will be able to find it. I can't possibly imagine this series updated. It IS the story of the end of the Cold War! Even as Deighton was writing the books, the final trilogy was already period pieces as they were published, and that didn't impact their power or popularity. I can't wait to see this series realized as a wonderful period piece covering that most fascinating and hitherto largely overlooked period of the Cold War, the 1980s!ReplyDelete
Slightly off piste I expect and probably discussed elsewhere but I am disappointed that LD didn't like Ian Holm as Samson, I thought he was wonderful. Nearly as good Alec Guinness as Smiley ;-)ReplyDelete
I totally agree. Ian Holm was perfect for the part.Delete
Samson was a big, powerful man. Holm while an excellent actor was too small to portray Bernard Samson who when necessary was very physical.Delete
The CIA operative used by Bret, a former Vietnam era paratrooper referred to Samson as "a diamond in the rough" and said "I wouldn't want to cross him".
Mr. Deighton was right.
Ian Holm was bloody perfect for Samson. He is the one I saw when I first read the trilogy long ago and the one I see as I re-read it now -- not the pretty boy pictured on the LD-approved covers today. I am just now viewing the mini series and keep saying, "What a shame it was not broadcast!" All the actors are superb for the parts, the script is true to the story, and the locations are a treat. Thanks to the person who made the vcr recording...Delete
Len told me that they got most of the other casting right except this. Ian Holm was just not the sort of person Len had in mind when writing the Samson character, and he felt the producers didn't get it right in casting Holm, and this coloured his whole view of the series. But, let's see what the new series is like when more details are announced!ReplyDelete
I too found Ian Holm’s casting a mistake. Much as I enjoyed the production I found myself constantly imagining others in the rôleDelete
Jason Statham for Samson. I've been saying this for years. Tough, honourable, underplaying, old fashioned, and very very British.ReplyDelete
I am currently re-reading all ten books for the third time and will contribute more fully to this thread when I finish in a few weeks.ReplyDelete
In his 1986 preface to Game Set Match, Deighton speaks of the error of those who imagine Bernard is right, but then seems to do a Bernard in his hostility to the Holm casting by your account. Worth noting for comparison that Le Carre was hugely impacted by the casting of Alec Guinness as Smiley, who took over his character entirely. It is surely the case with all art that the audience exercises judgement that will differ from that off the author. In this case the censoring of the Granada series belongs more in SS-GB than good reason. I am shocked now to learn that the unavailability of the excellent Granada show, with worthy interpretations by interesting cast is down to authorial caprice. Surely it would now be the time to relent and allow reproduction of the series... Unless, of course, Ian Holm should now want to cover up this career making performance I of his younger days.ReplyDelete
On the matter of whether Cold War is comprehensible, we seem suddenly back in a world loaded with chilling proxy war and heightened major power tension
Very good points, Dennis - it is a bit frustrating but if you want to see the series again, just look on eBay or on YouTube. It is available, and watchable. I understand from Len that there is some movement with regards to the planned TV adaptation of all nine novels, though nothing specific - one hopes this time that this series becomes defining and re-engages readers with the Samson characterDelete
Frustrating that there's still no evident action on this. Last conversation with Len about this and other 'projects' indicated they were still active, but clearly still at the 'pre-production' phase. Same with the elusive Bomber adaptation.ReplyDelete
Just read the nine books for the first time. Really cannot see why Ian Hom was not considered perfect casting...ReplyDelete
Check out the main website for the updated explanation from LD about why he retained the distribution rights.ReplyDelete
Interesting the importance you give to why the Dicky Cruyer character should be portrayed correctly in the new adaptation, if it does go ahead Rob. I take it from this importance you attach to Dicky Cruyer, you believe he was involved fully in the Fiona defection operation - and helped actively with the duping of Bernard Samson?ReplyDelete
I think he must have been or, perhaps, was so unwittingly. Certainly I think his buffoonish character is a devilish ruse for such an ambitious character who would want to be at the heart of the biggest operations. Can't be sure, though, and that's the beauty of the character.ReplyDelete
Is this series going to be filmed? I'd love to see it on TV! I'm reading Game, Set And Match again, at least Game to look more closely how the Fiona situation seemed to evolve. I'm more interested in the Berlin scenes as ice been there when there WAS a wall!ReplyDelete
In principle, yes. The rights are with Clerkenwell Films who are proposing to film all nine shows. However, it's still in pre-production stage; no shots have been filmed!ReplyDelete
I'm going to start the Faith H & C series next, after the Hook, Line but not yet sinker. I really do hope they do it, but I suppose I'd better not hold my breath..ReplyDelete
I read the 9 book series many years ago when I had time to read. I've always hoped to have time to re-read them. At this point, it will have to wait about 15 years until I am ready for retirement. Maybe by then the movies will be made!ReplyDelete
I wonder whether that 'new' tv project to film all the Samson book is still active. Announced 3 years ago and nothing further has been heard about it.ReplyDelete
Tweets and emails earlier this year to Clerkenwell Films hasn't elicited a response, which isn't hopeful. Presumably still in 'development'.ReplyDelete
I hope you are right that it is still 'in development', Rob. Looking at what the writer has on his plate, I don't think we will see the Samson project anytime is the forseeable future. To adapt all the Samson novels will be a big task, and will need exclusivity by the writer which I doubt will happen. Three years on this is still a future project according to the writers agents, along with other projects.ReplyDelete
I just dont understand how Len can hold the original TV series back, despite his concerns with casting. It does a complete disservice to his works and the considerable effort that a retinue of fine actors and actresses put into the series. I think Len would understand that it would be incredibly difficult to get his complex characters totally perfect as per the novels. His works were respected enough to attract an Oscar nominee to the lead role, the guy nominated for a BAFTA for this portrayal as well. But what of Michael Culver, Anthony Bate or Amanda Donohoe's performances or many of the others involved. I still think this was a wholly poor decision on Len's part, but its not too late to fix it. People should be watching this regularly on Netflix and many more would seek his books out accordingly.ReplyDelete
I don't disagree with you John; sadly, it's author's prerogative. When I've chatted with Len about it, he still remains of the same view. I would like to see if digitally released if for not other reasons than to see what Berlin was like before it got ruined by the 'regeneration' after Die Wende. Who knows, in time, things may change.Delete
I've been a big fan of Deighton from way back. Along with the craftsmanship I love his humor.ReplyDelete
Now, there's one aspect of the nine-parter for which I believe I've discovered something which for lack of a better term I'll say the author embedded a real world conspiracy inside his fictional conspiracy.
I won't go much further other than to say Dodo is one of several clues.
One response might be "Len and I know exactly what you're talking about, please don't go there.
Sir can anyone tell me the summary of that book (Berlin Game) in easy english.ReplyDelete
You could try this http://www.deightondossier.net/Books/Samson%20series/berlingame.htmlReplyDelete
Is it not published in your native language anywhere?
I read all the books, a couple of times, enjoyed the TV adaptation....is this gonna happen still?ReplyDelete
The rights were awarded by Deighton's agent to Clerkenwell films a couple of years ago, and by all accounts they still retain the option and everything is in 'pre-production' phase. But, nothing concrete yet.Delete
I recently re-read all of Deightons' collection of Bernard Sampson stories, for the 3rd time. Gosh, they are just as good now as back in the days of the cold war. Then I obtained a bootleg copy of the Game Set Match series shown on British tv.ReplyDelete
So. When I saw Ian Holm as Sampson, it was like hearing a nail thrown into a smoothly running motor or wretched squealing violins indicating a large case of The Creeps. Tore the fabric of the story for me, since he is the main character.
Bernie just isn't a schleppy little fellow! It was almost like watching a familiar story, only the main character was re-written for someone else.
Lastly, I didn't know anyone was considering a remake (thanks guys!) and hope that despite time passing, that the series will rise again. What with the new cold war ramping up these days, perhaps it will trigger more interest in how it was in 'the bad old days'.
Hi Jenny, would you mind sharing where you got the copy of G/S/M???Delete
Here is the offering page I found by doing a generic web search 'watch game set match'
I did a search for 'ioffer' because I never heard of them before, and did find a few complaints about the site, so I went with the one that had the most positive feedback. I paid $35 to a fellow called CrazyKoi and am very happy with the dvd.
It is obvious the original recording was from a dvd, but I thought I would die if I didn't find a copy, and I had no greater expectation than what one would expect from a vcr. Yes the picture quality is not great but is perfectly watchable, and the sound is just fine.
I h a ve only watched Game so far and except for Mr Holm it is a great espionage fix!
Thank you!!! I've ordered a copy and can't wait to watch. I'm not familiar with the actor but I have always imagined Bernard to be a older, grey-ing gentleman. Of course I read the series when i was in my 20's, so 40's to me was old and grey! lol. Thanks again!ReplyDelete
Hope you enjoy them! I imagine you will find Bernard well portrayed by Mr Holm. I saw him as not quite so middle aged, better dressed, and more agile. Just can't imagine Holm convincingly trekking up to Bernie's old room in the top of Lisl's hotel and relishing the memories! An earlier commenter suggested Jason Statham as Bernie and that I can get behind!ReplyDelete
Am finally getting to Set this evening and really looking forward to it.
Sorry, but I just can't see Fiona marrying Jason Statham.Delete
I've just finished listening to the 10 audiobooks about Bernard Samson and I love them. James Lailey the reader brings them to life wonderfully. If they are ever made into TV they will need an actor fluent in English and Germán (or 2 if you think of Werner Volkman). Not many of those around. May be Michael Fassbender with glasses and some extra weight.ReplyDelete
Please please please remake these books as a tv series. I adore these books having been introduced to them by my late father who was a massive fan. I Agree casting was off in the original series but this story deserves another go. I would love to share it with my children who sadly are reluctant to pick up a Novel but will happily watch Rv!ReplyDelete
I would love to see these books made into a series!! My late father introduced me to them and I have read the series at least 5 times!! I watched a little of the tv series that has been made and agree that the casting was all wrong and didn't do the characters justice.ReplyDelete
I have read the series over and over and Ian Holm IS Bernard. I think Deighton based Bernard's features off of himself. Not unheard of with an author for whom the story is so intricate. The books are a masterpiece in Game Set and Match. The others are a reprise and revisit of beloved characters. The books do show how operations works and the complex politics involved in the office. I would love to see the miniseries released and think it's a shame that it hasn't been. I would enjoy a new version as well and would watch it. I'm sorry but Holm's portrail of Bernard was powerful and spot on.ReplyDelete
I'm sort of inclined to agree with you, but can also see the point of view of the Holm detractors. I'm rather equivocal; the main thing that's important is that Clerkenwell Films pull their finger out and get filming.Delete
Massive fan of the books and would be very interested in seeing it brought to life in front of our eyes.
Is Simon Beaufoy still involved? He's now linked with The Spy who came in from the cold?
Does this mean the Trilogy of Trilogy is finished?
The issue is with Clerkenwell Films - sitting on their collective butts, waiting for the 'market' to justify filming. As long as they have the rights, nothing happens.Delete
Just finished rewatching a rather ratty copy of the entire series. its like revisiting an old friend who you have rediscovered after losing touch for years. Loved it again! I read all the books nine I think last year and so enjopyed them and LDs writing. It is such a shame that he has so taken against the series, whilst I can understand why he had issues about Ian Holm I do think in the end he made the role his own and along side the other so good performances it deserves to be seen by a wider audience! Any news about the proposed new production?ReplyDelete
Just reread Hope for the third time. I managed to buy the Game-Set-Match series couple of years back through a portal in UK that specializes in selling not-so-easily-available movies and TV shows. One look at the the actor who plays Samson and I lost all the enthusiasm of viewing the series. I plan to do an attempt to view it now. And this loss of motivation happened without having known a single thing about why Deighton himself was unhappy about the casting. I would like to know if any more such attempt have fructified of filming nine books of Bernard Samson. I wonder why his apathy on the part of BBC or others to bring out as dazzling a TV show as the book are! I worship Len Deighton and feel sad at this apathy! I plan to read the nine books again....Fantastic experience, I feel all the characters are very much a part of my life...ReplyDelete
If you look here on the main Deighton Dossier website - http://www.deightondossier.net/films/gsmtv/ - Len did provide me with a short perspective on why he disagreed with the producers of the shows.Delete
Clerkenwell Films have had the rights for over four years, and done nothing with them, which is very disappointing, and they've not responded to any of my emails about it.
Agree with you that the characters stick with you!
I too felt a sharp pain of disappointment at the actor chosen to be Bernard Samson. It constantly colored my reactions to the 3 part series, which I was prepared to outright adore! He was just all wrong. So I reread all 9 books in the series as well, and Bernard didn't look at all like Ian Holm!ReplyDelete
Have done a bit of research into a possible future presentations and it appears the series is currently stone cold dead, at least to tv or big screen offerings.
Having just read all the Samson Stories for the third time I am not sure how watching it play out on a tv screen would sit with me personally, I have taken the characters to my heart now and I see them in my own way. I just can't picture Ian Holm as Samson for some reason, not least because of his stature, Samson was surely quite a big guy wasn't he? Bernard in my minds eye is the face you see on most of the Berlin Game covers, I've always imagined Fiona to be like Diane Keen in her 40s and someone like Tamar Hassan with a big moustache as Werner. Tante Lisl, the DG and Frank Harrington are very well caricatured (I think) elsewhere on this blog.ReplyDelete
I am 81 years old, not tech savy, but remember watching the tv series years ago and have looked for a dvd of it for years. I guess the author didn't like the production and has made sure the OLD fans won't get a chance to view it again. Sort of selfish, I think. I have all his books but still remember the show. Eyesight for books fails before tv, so I wish he would change his mind.ReplyDelete
When I last looked there was a copy of the TV series of GSM on YouTube.ReplyDelete
My local library has audiobook versions available and I have just finished Mexico Set (having started with Winter). Looking forward to the next 7 books!
I am listening to them again for the umpteenth time...up to Hope....as enjoyable now as they were on my first reading!ReplyDelete
Just watched episode one on youtube. Ian Holm lacks even an ounce of sparkle, not to mention a hint of the acuity you'd presumably need to execute his job. Even that might be tolerable had not glamorous Mel Martin been cast as his wife. The odd couple indeed. Maybe I should read the books instead.ReplyDelete
I would certainly encourage you to read the books to understand the characters in full.Delete
Yes I am in camp with a previous comment, the original TV series was most memorable and I wish the series would be released again. Mr. Holm made the story ring of a post WWII reality. If suave and debonair is what I need, I’ll find reruns of The Saint.ReplyDelete
Who do I have to kill (joking- sort of) to get an original copy on VHS or DVD. ABC were selling these when first aired- probably VHS. I still have copies of what I recorded. It was so clear you could see fine wrinkles and individual hairs. However on our new FHD and 4K it will no doubt translate to loose fine details.ReplyDelete
I bought the reproductions on DVD three so far and they look crap.
I have watched it so many times that some parts of the Mexico episodes are worn out....
I'm afraid this is likely to be the situation for the foreseeable future, I'm afraid, though it's positive that things like The Ipcress File is getting remade by ITV (some may say not).Delete