Actress Naomie Harris, who played Eve Moneypenny in Skyfall and reprised the role in Spectre, has been giving some publicity interviews for another type of spy movie, Our Kind of Traitor, which had its UK premiere on 5th May and goes on general release in Britain on 13th May.
Naomie offered her thoughts on the general underlying message about gender inequalities that informs part of the plotline to the new movie, and also briefly touched on the future of Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond films.
Speaking to the London Evening Standard at the gala screening of her new film at the Curzon Cinema in Mayfair, London, Naomi said she loved the fact that the new movie’s story helped to highlight some of the inequalities still faced by women today, especially when it comes to earnings and the attitude of men towards high-earning women, but she also added that she was ‘optimistic that things will only get better for women’.
When quizzed about Moneypenny, Naomie was cautious about all the recent speculation concerning Daniel Craig’s future as 007, but said: ‘I hope Moneypenny gets to come back again. I don’t think anyone really knows what is happening with the next one. We would all like to see Daniel return as Bond, but the truth is no one knows’. She continued: ‘For me, playing Moneypenny has had nothing but a positive impact on my career. It’s raised my visibility and I’m incredibly grateful for it’.
The gritty new movie, which had a 10-week main production schedule, is set mainly in contemporary, recession-gripped Britain, and is based on espionage writer John Le Carre’s best-selling novel of 2010 (his 22nd novel, no less!). It is directed by Susanna White and has a screenplay by critically acclaimed writer Hossein Amini. Naomie is playing the part of barrister Gail Perkins, opposite Ewan McGregor, who plays Perry Makepeace, a University lecturer.
Le Carre’s World of Spies
As a number of critics have pointed out, it has been something of a golden period for fans of the novels of John Le Carre. His novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was turned into a highly-praised movie in 2011, and the recent TV series of The Night Manager, screened on BBC TV, was also very well-received by critics and the public alike (and, ironically, identified its star Tom Hiddleston as a possible future Bond candidate).
The new Naomie Harris and Ewan McGregor adventure had an interesting evolution. At one stage, Ralph Fiennes (the new ‘M’) was going to take a key role in the movie as a Russian mobster named Dima, but he withdrew, and was replaced by Stellan Skarsgard (of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). Interestingly, Mads Mikkelsen (of Casino Royale) was also once briefly attached to the movie when it was first announced.
The storyline to the new film sees a young Oxford academic (Makepeace) and his barrister girlfriend (Perkins) on holiday in Marrakech, in Morocco, when they bump into Dima (Skarsgard). Dima is a Russian millionaire and villa-owning oligarch, who appears to just want a friendly game of tennis, but in reality has another agenda. He is actually a big-time money launderer, with knowledge of terrorist activities, and is involved in the murky world of East European crime syndicates and their underworld links to big business and secret government circles. The shady Dima soon reveals to the young English couple that he plans to defect, and would like their help. He persuades them to help him and his extended family defect to the UK, but in the process he embroils them in a complex plot where they are soon positioned between the Russian Mafia and the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), and they can trust neither.
Set mainly in the City of London and the English Home Counties, other locations include Paris, Moscow, Morroco and the Swiss Alps. Harris and McGregor are joined in the movie by Damian Lewis (of Homeland fame), who has a major role as Hector, a British MI6 Intelligence officer, and also by actors Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Northam.
Unsurprisingly, Damian Lewis is another actor who has been attached to regular media speculation about the role of James Bond. He had to deal with the stories yet again at the premiere of Our Kind of Traitor, saying that they were rumours that he was ‘enjoying immensely’. But he added: ‘No one has called me’.
From Palmer With Love?
Given his look in the new movie, it is not really James Bond that springs to mind, but Harry Palmer! Shooting on the movie saw some sequences with Damian Lewis being filming on the sandy banks of the River Thames at low tide, with Lewis’s character Hector engaged in a long mobile phone call as he walks along the shore near the River. A number of onlookers commented that Lewis was dressed a bit like Michael Caine’s cynical spy Harry Palmer, complete with short mac and dark-rimmed glasses.
Lewis was also spotted doing some night filming for the movie on location at Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium in North London, and some UK newspaper reports at the time noted his ‘Harry Palmer’ look was evident again. He was joined by Mark Gatiss, who is playing Hector’s colleague, Luke.
Our Kind of Traitor has been produced by Le Carre’s son, Simon Cornwell (John Le Carre’s real name is David Cornwell), together with his other son Stephen, both of The Ink Factory, and Gail Egan of Potboiler Productions. The other production companies involved are StudioCanal and Film4. According to comments by one of Le Carre’s sons, the role of Gail (played by Naomie Harris) has been ‘built up in a more and more interesting way’ for the movie version of Le Carre’s novel.
Le Carre and Bond
Not many people realise that John Le Carre, who first shot to international fame as an author with his third spy novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1963), was a real-life British Intelligence officer. At the height of the Cold War, he became an officer for MI5 in 1958, dealing with domestic spy cases. In 1960, he transferred to the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), and worked undercover for MI6 in West Germany. His experiences on the ‘front line’ of the Cold War were reflected in the grey, rather morally ambiguous world of espionage portrayed in his novels, the first two of which he wrote while still employed as an Intelligence officer. The success of his third novel encouraged him to leave MI6 and take up thriller writing as a full-time profession.
Le Carre has had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Ian Fleming and James Bond over the years. In a 1966 interview with Malcolm Muggeridge (newly rediscovered in the BBC archive in 2010), Le Carre was scathing in his assessment of Fleming’s James Bond: ‘I dislike Bond. I’m not sure that Bond is a spy. I think that it’s a great mistake if one’s talking about espionage literature to include Bond in this category at all’.
However, reflecting on his original 1966 interview in the BBC’s Radio Times in 2010, Le Carre told the magazine: ‘These days I would be much kinder. I suppose we’ve lost sight of the books in favour of the film versions, havn’t we? I was a young man and I knew that I had written about the reality in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and the Fleming stuff was a deliberate fantasisation of Fleming’s own experiences…’.
In July, 2010, another spy writer, William Boyd (who later wrote his own James Bond novel, Solo) penned an article for the UK’s Guardian newspaper on why he keeps returning to Le Carre’s famous third novel 50 years after its first publication. Boyd called The Spy Who Came In From The Cold ‘unremittingly dark’ but also ‘remarkable in the way it is constructed and written’.
Our Kind of Traitor, starring Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard, Damian Lewis and Naomie Harris, goes on general release in UK cinemas on 13th May, 2016.
Did you know?
The movie version of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965), starring Richard Burton and Claire Bloom, also had a small role for Bernard Lee (‘M’ in the Connery and Moore Bond films) as the character Patmore.
Naomie Harris during filming for Spectre in London