Over the course of nearly 60 years, British novelist and former spy John le Carré has become synonymous with espionage thrillers. What his books lack in explosions and gunfights they make up for with conflicted characters, compelling stories and exotic locations, leading to a steady flow of Hollywood adaptations. The past few years have seen several TV and film productions released through a company run by two of his sons and filmed in locations around the world.
Spymaster Kurtz (Michael Shannon) handpicks a theatre actress named Charlie (Florence Pugh) to be his agent in TV series The Little Drummer Girl, which results in her spying in several alluring locations including Greece. The production received special permission to film at the Parthenon, which serves as the location of a romantic date at dusk for Charlie and a Mossad agent. Head to Mount Lycabettus for sunset views – or enjoy said view in more comfort from a balcony at the Hilton. Watch for le Carré to make a cameo as a waiter in the third episode.
In the TV adaptation of The Night Manager, former soldier Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) is working in a hotel when he gets recruited by MI6 to go undercover and catch the rich and corrupt Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). Roper’s lifestyle means the series takes place in the glossy world of the ultra-rich, flitting from one elegant location to another. One such spot is the oceanfront restaurant Ca’s Patro March in Mallorca – a three-hour boat ride from the Spanish mainland. It’s the perfect place to get away from it all and relax, or plot your next nefarious scheme…
In Fernando Meirelles’ The Constant Gardener, you can feel the dust in Justin Quayle’s (Ralph Fiennes) eyes as he walks the streets of Nairobi searching for answers about the murder of his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz). Scenes of the doomed couple filmed on the shore of shallow Lake Turkana in the north show it to be one of the most picturesque spots in the country.
Although we visit the streets of Budapest and Istanbul, the story of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is primarily set in London. It follows Le Carré’s most famous character, George Smiley, as he hunts for a mole in MI6. Both the 1979 mini-series with Alec Guinness playing the character and the 2011 film with Gary Oldman in the role highlight the city’s labyrinthine, chiaroscuro quality. In the TV version, Smiley’s home is located down a crooked, narrow, dead-end street in the upscale Chelsea neighbourhood. It’s an excellent area to window shop while carrying out surveillance.
The Russia House, starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer, was the first Hollywood movie to be filmed in Moscow, just before the fall of the USSR. It opens with shots of Pfeiffer walking through Red Square to the luxurious, historic Hotel National, with St Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin looming behind her. Be sure to stop in the National’s elegant Alexandrovsky Bar and raise a glass to spies past, present and fictional.