“One of the strengths of John le Carre’s work is that he incorporates very important themes into a roller coaster ride of a thriller,” says screenwriter Hossein Amini of le Carre’snovel OUR KIND OF TRAITOR, which he has adapted into a major new feature film of the same name, directed by Susanna White and starring Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard, Damian Lewis and Naomie Harris.
“The audience is thrown into the shoes of an innocent couple and there are dangers lurking around every corner,” Amini explains. “But along the way le Carre is also saying a lot about the world in the years post the global economic crash of 2008, and about the influence of Russia and Europe on Britain. He personalises the story through the characters we meet along the way.”
OUR KIND OF TRAITOR is produced by Gail Egan of Potboiler Productions, with Simon Cornwell and Stephen Cornwell of The Ink Factory. Potboiler enjoys a long-standing relationship with le Carre, having previously produced two acclaimed screen versions of his novels: Fernando Meirelles‘ Oscar-winning THE CONSTANT GARDENER in 2005, and Anton Corbjn‘s 2014 adaptation of A MOST WANTED MAN.
“We were lucky enough to read the book prior to publication,” says Egan. “It was obvious straight away. It’s a great book. It’s a great story and it has great characters. It is very cinematic.”
OUR KIND OF TRAITOR is the dramatic story of an unsuspecting married couple, Perry (McGregor) and Gail (Harris) on holiday in Marrakech, who meet the flamboyant and charismatic Russian, Dima (Skarsgard). He befriends them over games of tennis and lavish parties at his villa before revealing he is the top money launderer for the Russian mafia and wants to defect with his family to Britain. From that moment on, Perry and Gail are thrown into the fractured, dangerous world of international spies and dirty politics as they endeavor to save Dima and his family, and ultimately themselves. Indeed, OUR KIND OF TRAITOR captures a very British fascination with espionage, international double-dealing and Britain’s place in the world.
“It was a very strong, very relatable story,” says producer Simon Cornwell, who is also le Carre’s son. “An everyman and an everywoman couple caught in a world that overwhelms them and charts their journey through that. It was a very natural to take to the screen.”
Set in London, Marrakech, Paris, Bern and the French Alps, director Susanna White, whose breadth of work ranges from Working Title’s Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang to HBO’s hard-hitting Generation Kill (about the US invasion of Iraq) to BBC period dramas such as the BAFTA winning Bleak House, Parade’s End and Jane Eyre, was drawn to the very cinematic aspect of the story, as well as its very contemporary themes. White is one of the few women in the world directing films on this scale.
“What made this stand out for me was that it is a very modern story,” she explains. “I have grown up with le Carre and most of his other stories have looked backwards into the past and been set in a world of darkish interiors. OUR KIND OF TRAITOR is a big road movie, travelling across five countries.
“It is a le Carre for now,” she continues. “People in MI6 might now be working counter-terrorism. I deliberately cast Khalid Abdalla, a Middle Eastern actor, to play Luke, because that is the MI6 we’ve got now. I hope it will make people think about the world that we live in.”
Damian Lewis, who plays British MI6 agent Hector Meredith, explains it is as much a character piece as it is a suspenseful thriller. “It’s not a ‘who done it’, it’s more of a ‘can they do it?'”
Le Carré’s novels always drill with piercing acuity into the global issues of the day: the pharmaceutical industry in The Constant Gardener; the war on terror in A Most Wanted Man; in OUR KIND OF TRAITOR it is private finance and the impact of Russia – specifically Russian money – on the entire spectrum of British society, from finance to politics to the streets of London, which comes under scrutiny.
“One of the themes of le Carré’s work is that Britain has almost declined as a world power but we still have these British values that come from a time when Britain was on top of the world and had a moral responsibility,” Amini suggests. “As that power has waned, that morality has turned into something far more like compromise. He is very interested in the impact of the decline of British power on a moral system. That’s what our film is about. There are those who are willing to anger the Russian authorities to help this man Dima escape, and there are those who are opposed to that and are probably working with the Russians, all within the British system.”
OUR KIND OF TRAITOR deftly wraps these weighty issues inside universal imponderables including what it means to be a man in the 21st century.
“Perry’s character is struggling to define who he is,” says White. “At the start of the movie he feels lost, his wife is much more successful than he is and his journey is one of redefining himself as a man, which he discovers on his journey with Dima. We have a couple in crisis needing to heal and repair their relationship.”