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Friday, 12 December 2014

Film of the book: The Constant Gardener

As yesterday’s book release Catalyst is about a fictional pharmaceutical company, Cerberus, and Catherine Vibrissae’s vendetta against its head, it seems appropriate to look at another work about pharmas: The Constant Gardener.

This is a faithful adaptation of John Le Carré’s novel and, even with the constant flash-backs, it delivers.  The 2001 book was an angry indictment of certain pharmas – big pharmaceutical companies - and their dubious practices in getting drugs tested and approved.  Since then, certain controls have been put in place yet somewhere we can be sure that poor people are still being used without their consent as drug-testing guinea-pigs.  Not all pharmas are wicked.  But the one in The Constant Gardener definitely is.

The music matches the haunting and ravishing views of Africa and was composed by the Spaniard Alberto Iglesias.

The film starts in Kenya with the off-screen murder of Tess (Oscar winning Rachel Weisz), the campaigning wife of diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes).  Normally, I don’t like stories that begin with a major character’s murder and then persist in giving us flash-backs, but it worked well in the book and it does in the film too. 

Tess was an activist-humanitarian working with African physician Arnold Bluhm (Herbert Kounde). She upset the tightly-knit diplomatic community with her passion for speaking out, particularly against Three Bees Pharmaceutical which ostensibly provides jobs, aid and money. 

The quiet widower, Quayle, slowly digs around the edges of his late wife’s past and unearths uncomfortable mysteries and a few home truths.  Fiennes’s performance is understated and is particularly moving when he finally breaks down in his garden to weep for his lost love.

If this had been a Hollywood film, doubtless Quayle would have gone out for vengeance with a gun or two. Instead, he simply pokes around, unsettling the hidden powers behind the shadowy pharmaceutical company, including Sir Bernard Pellegrin (Bill Nighy) who is in the Pharma’s pocket and just happens to be Quayle’s boss at the Foreign Office. 

It’s an unnerving film, because it tells us that, unless things change radically, the beautiful continent of Africa is doomed by commercial greed and despotism. Nothing new there, then. Worse, though, the incidence of tuberculosis is increasing and will spread into Europe as the mass migration of illegal immigrants continues; prophetic, it seems, since that is the case now in UK. Yes, there is hope, but it is slim. The ending, for me, was unsatisfying, which was the same emotional response I gleaned from the book.  See this powerful and at times emotional film, by all means, but it isn’t really entertainment as the message dominates too much.

Le Carré can get away with switching tense and POV because he’s such a good writer. Within a short space of time, the reader is immersed in his characters’ worlds. I haven’t yet read all his books, but I’ve read the majority, including all of the spy novels. For me, outside his spy fiction, The Night Manager is one of his suspenseful best. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad Le Carré book; it is soon to be filmed as a TV series.


Note: You can read about my fictional pharma, Cerberus Worldwide, in my ‘Avenging Cat’ thriller series, beginning with Catalyst.
Amazon UK e-book here
Amazon COM e-book here
Paperbacks are also available at a good price!
Or try getting the paperback from The Book Depository post-free worldwide!



Ron Scheer said...

Not a spy novel reader, I'm not all that familiar with John Le Carré except through the movies, most recently A Most Wanted Man and before that the remake of Tinker, Tailor. I will say that his characters and plots make great material for the screen, though the murder of Rachel Weisz' character at the outset would disturb me more than a little despite the flashbacks. Hard to know whether Big Pharma or the next pandemic is more to be feared.

Drug resistant strains of TB spread in prisons here where deportees from 3rd world countries are held. Something to keep you awake at night if you don't have enough of that already.

Just saw Bill Nighy in Page Eight and the 2 sequels. Always a favorite, even as the aging rocker in Love, Actually.

Nik said...

Hi, Ron, good to see you here! I agree with your concerns, too. The last major ebola outbreak was in the late 1970s but no pharma invested in a cure because there was no money in it... So now thousands are dying. As for TB, that was eradicated from UK... but is now back thanks to mass immigration, it would seem.