Everyone loves a good spy, and the one that’s captured the imagination of readers for over six decades is none other than George Smiley. Though Smiley may be the antithesis of another popular spy, namely James Bond, he has been immortalized on screen by several actors.
Who was David Cornwell aka John le Carre
Smiley’s creator David Cornwell, better recognised by his pseudonym, John le Carré, the legendary novelist penned over 30 voluminous narratives of spy thrillers such as The Spy Who Came From The Cold, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and A Perfect Spy, managed to make their way to bestseller lists.
Now the writer, who transitioned from being a spy to a novelist, is the subject of a riveting documentary, The Pigeon Tunnel by Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris.
Spanning six decades, the documentary which is based on le Carré own 2016 memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories of My Life and was inspired by a childhood memory of him witnessing a pigeon hunt, gives an insight into the world of Cornwell’s/ le Carré mysterious world.
How was the docu made
Documentarian Errol Morris interviewed David Cornwell over four sessions in the fall of 2019, which was also the author’s last, since he passed away in the winter of 2020.
Talking to the Hindustan Times, Morris says “I had read The Pigeon Tunnel, and it remains my favourite book by le Carré, and I wanted to capture this in film. It occurred to me during the making of this film that John le Carré was a documentarian, each of his books is based on history, and current history, and he endlessly investigated the political situations around him.”
Son of a bankrupt conman and jailbird, Ronnie Cornwell, who was immortalized in 1986 bestseller A Perfect Spy, has very often weaved elements of his personal life into fiction. Describing his subject as a kindred spirit, Errol Morris reveals there is a powerful moral force that runs through his writing.
“I expected someone cynical, but realised the man sitting opposite was a believer in the truth and good and evil. I grew to understand his writing after spending time talking with him. So the probability of making a movie like this allowed me to learn something, which I did.”
The film has been co-produced by John le Carré’s sons Stephen and Simon Cornwell says it was a wonderful experience as they not only got a deep insight, but several surprising, amusing and profoundly moving anecdotes during filming.
“It was his last interview. It was important to him in a subtle way that what he said was definitive, it was almost a statement he wanted to make. He was aware that he was at the end of his life, so just watching him on screen was a powerful thing for us”, says Stephen Cornwell, who further adds their father was “fiercely protective about himself, and his family as he speaks, but he was that man, who was very sensitive to other people. He was very keen that people focus on his work, which he felt defined him. So he just had to keep writing.”
Did he watch The Night Manager?
Many of John le Carré’s works have also been cinematically adapted such as Russia House, The Tailor of Panama, The Constant Gardener, and The Night Manager, which also saw its Indian adaptation, starring Anil Kapoor, Aditya Roy Kapur and Sobitha Dhulipala earlier this year.
“Sadly he died before the Hindi language version of The Night Manager came to our screens. But he was thrilled to know that it was being adapted and though he was still alive when the initial work on the show had begun, and was very incredibly excited to see that happen,” shares Simon Cornwell.
The Pigeon Tunnel was recently screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, and is available on Apple TV+