In 2010, Patrick Malahide portrayed the central character Ned in a BBC Radio 4 adaptation of John Le Carre’s The Secret Pilgrim. The entire production is absolutely magnificent with Mr. Malahide’s moodily introspective and rueful portrayal of Ned adding intense depth and warmth. That voice of his has never sounded better; it is mesmerizing.
It is currently available on iTunes USA for $9.95 and is available on iTunes and Amazon for several other countries as well.
George Smiley (Simon Russell Beale) is giving talks to Ned’s pupils at the Sarratt training school about his life in espionage. Smiley’s words, conversational in tone, make Ned reflect on his own career in “The Circus.” His memories are dramatized as short stories. They run the gamut from sad, to depressing, to downright horrifying, some are even at times darkly amusing.
I won’t give a full recap, but I’ll cover a few elements from some of my favorite parts.
Brief Recap: Spoilers Below
The first couple of stories, prompted by Smiley’s talk on the difficulty of recognizing the truth in spies, illustrate some of Ned’s feelings of guilt, even though he isn’t to blame. A friend of his, Ben Cavendish (Dan Stevens) was accused of being a spy but was merely careless. The big reveal is that Ben is gay and deeply in love with Ned. Ned, who is straight, had no idea. He remembers Ben telling him about his cousin Stephanie, and correctly guesses Ben is hiding out with her. Ned’s guilt at inadvertently leading Smiley to Ben is genuine, but at least he learns that Ben never knowingly compromised agents.
In another, Ned is handling a sailor named Brandt while simultaneously having an affair with Brandt’s girlfriend Bella (Keeley Beresford). Later he learns that Brandt was a double agent. He wonders if Brandt was one from the start, fearing that meant he had helped kill agents by recruiting him. The scenes with Ned and Bella are excellent. It is obvious she finds him extremely attractive and actively enjoys the thought of him using Brandt’s personal belongings.
Smiley discusses the risks of being an agent. Ned’s next memories are far more terrible and violent. In one he is horribly tortured by Col. Jerzy (Alexander Morton), a Polish interrogator, although in excruciating pain Ned steadfastly maintains a Dutch cover identity. The terror combined with intense stubbornness in Patrick Malahide’s performance is perfect.
My favorite of all the stories is where Ned interrogates a cipher clerk named Cyril (Toby Jones). Cyril is at first extremely cheerful, chirpy and very cute, until Ned reveals they know he’s been studying Russian language radio courses and working with a Russian agent. We learn how emotionally damaged Cyril is. He alternates between almost liking Ned, who is a very gentle and compassionate man, and hating him for what he sees as Ned’s typically mundane masculinity.
Cyril’s main fault is just being painfully lonely. He is bullied at work and has no one to share his intellectual pursuits with. The Russian agent gave him false friendship, but when he lost that friendship Cyril was willing to betray his country to get it back.
My favorite bit is how Ned reacts to Cyril the cipher clerk’s absolute hatred of his allegedly boorish, bullying co-workers. Ned has definitely disliked people and can feel anger and disgust, but he has never actually truly hated anyone. He didn’t even hate Col. Jerzy, the man who tortured him. That tells us a lot about Ned.
Wrap-Up:Again, I really recommend this serial. It is so well acted and Patrick Malahide brings Ned to life.
His voice is melancholic, but he doesn’t seem depressed so much as reflective of what he has seen, both good and bad. The entire production is excellent.
And as you can see from the photos chosen, Patrick Malahide has played a fair number of spy types. Hopefully, it is a theme he will soon return to because he is eminently suited for those sorts of complex and highly nuanced roles as he so adeptly proved with his portrayal of Ned.