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Mini-series to Movie Gold

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader

2011-11-17


There's been a bit of a trend over the last decade of short-run British TV mini-series being turned into feature films. One of the early of these British mini-series to be turned to feature film was the six episode series Traffik (1989) that was adapted as the film Traffic (2000).

Traffik presents a global heroin trade that starts in places like Pakistan, winds its way up through Europe and finally ends in the streets of Great Britain. The series focused on a multitude of characters; from a politician in the UK trying to connect with a daughter hooked on drugs; a Pakistani farmer who turns to the drug trade in order to support his family; a wife dealing with the fact that her husband really isn't just a successful business man but is instead an illegal drug importer; and a pair of German cops trying their best to stem the flow of drugs.

Bleak and often depressing, Traffik shows a world where the drug trade is out of control and anything that might be done to stop it is insufficient at best.

The film Traffic used much of the same structure and characters of Traffik. In Traffic, the focus shifted from Pakistan and Europe to Mexico and the US and though much shorter and condensed than Traffik, Traffic is none-the-less a great film and arguably one of the best films of the early 2000s.

One of my favorite mini-series to film is the political comedy Thick of It (2005) to film In the Loop (2009). Thick of It dealt with the fictional Department of Social Affairs and the inner-inner-inner workings of the British government. Here, the politicians and their staff are portrayed as less interested in doing the public good and more interested in climbing up the political ladder and destroying their enemies — and sometimes friends — in the process. It's the anti-The West Wing.

The film In the Loop dealt with many of the same characters and themes of the series. This time, the Minister for Internal Development is launched to the public stage after he accidentally suggests that a war with an unnamed middle eastern country is immanent and this view is seen as beneficial for certain politicians and military commanders in Washington DC.

One British series to film that was a miss was State of Play, a mini-series in 2003 and feature film in 2009.

Both the series and film dealt with politician Stephen Collins, originally David Morrissey then Ben Affleck, being pulled into a web of intrigue after the murder of his assistant. As the police investigation focuses on Collins as the one having the most to gain from the assistant's death and it being revealed that the two were having an affair, Collins friend and newspaper reporter Cal McAffrey, John Simm then Russell Crowe, is the only one who can clear his Collins' name.

The film version of State of Play faltered in that it tried to incorporate too much of the original mini-series story into the film story. And since the mini-series told the State of Play story over six hours and the film version not even a third of that, the movie felt rushed and spotty in places.

The mini-series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979) focuses on ex-spy George Smiley (Alec Guinness), pulled back into the mix when a Soviet spy/mole is uncovered in the depths of the British intelligence service nicknamed the “Circus.” The seven episode series followed Smiley investigating all the heads of the Circus, who are given the code names “tinker,” “tailor,” “soldier,” “poorman” and “beggerman” and eliminating them as suspects one by one until only the mole is left.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy might be light on action, but it's heavy on plot, story and atmosphere. A feature film titled Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is set to follow the same points as the original mini-series, stars Gary Oldman in the role of George Smiley, and is set to premiere in theaters December 9.

Somehow, Oldman as Smiley seems appropriate as he's best known for playing Commissioner Gordon in the recent Batman movies and Guinness is best known as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars films.

Traffik, Traffic, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and In the Loop are available on DVD. Visit me online at AlphaEcho.com.

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