“The Constant Gardener” Review

There are no murders in Africa. Only regrettable deaths.

I’d given up hope of seeing this film on the big screen, but my local cinema rather wonderfully re-screened The Constant Gardener on Saturday and Sunday and so I finally got to see it.

This heart-breaking film lived up to its promise as the best Le Carre (cinema) adaptation to date. For my money, Le Carre has only been adapted satisfactorily for the small screen, in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. There have been worthy efforts, in The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and The Tailor of Panama, but even these ultimately failed to deliver.

This was an adaptation Le Carre did not have a hand in, though he has said he is very pleased with it. The story concerns a diplomat in Kenya whose young wife dies in suspicious circumstances. Following her death he takes up her investigation into some dubious testing by a pharmaceutical multinational. Ralph Fiennes is excellent in the title role, and the woderful Rachel Weisz, although she doesn’t quite convince as “twenty four” (why not rewrite her age to something more suitable?) is absolutely devastating as the passionate wife, transplanted to Africa where she finds a cause that leads her to justify questionable means by the absolute rightness of the ends.

As an adaptation the film is faithful to the spirit of the book. The start of the book, in which the grieving widower Quayle is introduced has been abandoned. Quayle’s journey from the comfortable establishment of the British diplomatic service to the front line where AIDS and TB are allowed to rampage for want of money is condensed. But this was inevitable in bringing the story to the screen, and the film still manages to push its powerful message in the uncompromising ending.

Although there are spies in the Constant Gardener, Le Carre is certainly no longer writing spy stories. And there is no subtlety in the message the film is trying to convey. All the same, this is a powerful and moving book (Le Carre’s best since “Our Game”) and it deserves the wonderful adaptation, the first to truly do the man justice on the big screen.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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