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Our Kind of Traitor


Stars: Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard, Damian Lewis, Naomie Harris, Jeremy Northam, Khalid Abdalla, Mark Gatiss, Saskia Reeves, Alicia von Rittberg, Alec Atgoff, Mark Stanley, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Marek Oravec, Velibor Topic, Jana Perez

Director: Susanna White

Tessa Ross, one-time director of film and drama at Channel 4 and briefly chief executive of the National Theatre before stepping down in 2015 after some six months in the job, is among the credited producers of this John le Carré adaptation.

The career of director Susanna White, too, has also been essentially in television (with the exception of her single feature Nanny McPhee Returns in 2010).

All of which may go some way to explaining why this adequate but otherwise largely undistinguished espionage thriller largely resembles a made-for-television movie. And, since Channel 4 is among the credited production companies, that is probably its proper (and ultimate) home.

It’s unfortunate too, that Our Kind of Traitor was released while the brilliant BBC television miniseries version of The Night Manager was still fresh in viewers’ memories.

Here Hossein Amini’s adaptation of le Carre’s novel finds college professor Ewan McGregor holidaying in Marrakesh with his wife Naomi Harris in an attempt to heal the wounds left by his affair with a student.

McGregor is befriended by Russian oligarch Stellan Skarsgard and only later finds his new pal needs his help to escape the Russian mobsters for whom he has been laundering their ill-gotten gains.

And when Skarsgard enlists McGregor’s help in getting classified secrets to British intelligence, the professor and his wife are pitched into a series of life or death incidents across Europe and among crooked Londoners in league with corrupt Russian oligarchs with MI6 agent Damian Lewis as the catalyst-protector…

At one stage McGregor plaintively asks himself “What am I doing here?”

I empathised.

Our Kind of Traitor is perfectly efficient on both sides of the camera (although it’s sad to see Harris playing a cardboard character and, possibly although I hope that isn’t the case, because of her fame as Miss Moneypenny).

Lewis, happily, is infinitely better than in his celluloid disaster The Silent Storm, although at times his cut-price action spy turn could possibly be seen as a potential screen test for 007.

While there are no bad performances, there are no outstanding ones either, apart from Skarsgard whose larger-than-life villain, complete with a Russian(?) accent that wanders from scene to scene, is enjoyable.

Good cinematography (Anthony Dod Mantle), attractive locations and competent if uninspired direction clothe the passable story attractively enough but never quite manage to raise it above the level of ordinary.

Alan Frank

UK/France 2016. UK Distributor: StudioCanal. Colour.
107 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 1, Swearing 1.

Review date: 22 May 2016