Taking a look at what should have been, could be or simply would make an interesting idea. There are so many possibilities... so what if Steve Taylor-Bryant remade a spy classic?...
I haven't seen the mini-series based on Len Deighton's trilogy Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match since it aired in the 1980's. I remember watching with my father and being fascinated. I was always a history buff as a child and The Cold War was my favourite subject. I was also living in Germany at the time and had recently stayed at RAF Gatow in Berlin, travelling to the East through Checkpoint Charlie. The history I knew and the places and imagery in my mind left me in awe of spy stories based on these things and I remember Game, Set, & Match starring the brilliant Ian Holm like it was yesterday.
It's sad, however, that I can read the books multiple times in varying ways nowadays but it's virtually impossible to get hold of the mini-series. The story of Bernard Samson I genuinely believe would be loved by many if it got a screen media outing similar to The Night Manager just recently. The Night Manager showed that television can attract the very best actors to television and that throwing a great budget at a television mini-series is still a wise investment. It also illustrated that a passion for espionage still lives within society despite the end of The Cold War, a great story is a great story regardless of time period. So how do we go about getting Len Deighton's fantastic trilogy the same love and affection that John Le Carre's work seems to get? Well, my friends, we cast and we cast magnificently.
The time is the early 1980s. A highly placed agent in East Germany codenamed "Brahms Four" wants to come to the West. Brahms Four is one of Britain's most reliable, most valuable agents behind the Iron Curtain, and that he should be urgently demanding safe passage to the West sends a ripple of panic through the SIS. Bernard Samson, a former field agent, and now working behind a London desk, is tasked to undertake the crucial rescue. After all, it was Brahms Four who had once, nearly twenty years ago, saved his life.
But even before Samson sets out on his mission, he is confronted with undeniable evidence that there is a traitor among his colleagues working for the KGB. Clearly, it is someone close to the top, close to Samson himself. It could be Dicky Cruyer, his incompetent supervisor - whom Samson despises. It could be Bret Rensselaer, who has built his entire career around the work of Brahms Four — and who is spending an inordinate amount of time with Samson's wife, Fiona (also an intelligence officer). It could be Frank Harrington, the 'rezident' (head) of the Berlin field unit. In fact, it could be any member of the senior staff at London Central — even the Director-General himself.
Bernard travels to East Berlin to assist the escape of Brahms Four, and decides at the last moment to send Brahms Four out in his place and its then that Bernard comes face to face with the traitor.
The main characters I'll be looking at are the big ones from Berlin Game, that after all was my way in and you too should be gripped from the beginning. As the story travels the globe and back, the rest of the characters should hopefully cast themselves in your mind’s eye, this is just an article and I can't do all the work for you! So I'll get to Bernard Samson, who the trilogy revolves around at the end, first I'll introduce the rest of my cast.
One of Samson's bosses and, whilst Bernard doesn't fully respect his superior, there is a level of trust between the two men that is incredibly important when it comes to covert operations and a spy hunt. Cruyer becomes more important as Berlin Game goes on and, by the time we get to Mexico Set, he is virtually Samson's partner in all things espionage related. My choice of actor has to be able to carry that air of authority, that 'educated but maybe not Street smart' feel and must be able to hold himself with Samson and with Werner but at the same time be comfortable at cocktail parties with the uber important and knighted. I've plumped for an actor I truly admire and who knows how to carry a hit television show, he's as exciting as he is tremendous, and he’s Damian Lewis.
The German who went to school with Bernard and stayed best friends. Adept at sneaking in and out of the East side of Berlin, there’s a little edge of criminality about him but not traitorous, more fraudulent for personal gain. Werner would die for Bernard but, due to issues after Bernard leaves Berlin with the new head of Berlin office, Frank Harrington, he's left out of any espionage and resents just about anyone except his own crew and Bernard, married but constantly falling out with Zena, Werner needs to be funny, cheeky, angry, full of pent up rage, and desperate to please. Sounds like Daniel Brühl does it not?
So Brühl’s Werner needs a wife. Someone a bit sneaky and demanding but doted on by Werner. A confident for Werner, someone who knows her own mind and drives him crazy, but someone he can trust. An actor is required that cannot look out of place in a room with my cast and hold her own when the script requires. I’ve gone for Diane Kruger who I loved in National Treasure and have wanted to put into one of my ‘What If?’ imaginary casts for such a long time.
Bernard’s wife Fiona has a sister. Tessa is not that happily married and seems to love having affairs and with it the secrets she discovers as the objects of her desire show off for her. It’s Tessa that leads Bernard to discover that one of his own is dealing with the KGB so it needs an actor of importance even if the book doesn’t play her that way. Plus I get to cast Rachel McAdams.
So the British agent that Tessa tells Bernard about? Giles Trent. Trent is not your typical action man agent, more over educated foppish Brit in well over his head. Every time I find one of these types of characters I cannot help but picture Rory Kinnear. It’s not right of me I know, the guy is an outstanding talent, but the heart wants what the heart wants.
Before I round off my cast for Berlin Game there are a few other characters that need attention. These are guys that are vital to the story but, despite this, they are not actually in the book as much as you would think. The mere mention of their names though and the few scenes they are in demand a certain type of star so you are aware of their importance. Silas Gaunt is one such character. Hugely respected, maybe even feared by some, but his appearances are few and far between but you need to know who he is and completely surrender yourself to that level of importance so I need an actor that does that just by being on screen; Jim Broadbent. Frank Harrington is another. He is in charge of Berlin for the office since Bernard went back to London and is talked of quite a bit but not heavily involved per se in the thick of it as it will appear on screen but you again have to believe in him and the actor who portrays him so I’ll jump on the Spooks bandwagon and cast Matthew McFadyen. Then there is the boss of both Bernard and Dicky and I need someone who has a steely edge but looks and sounds like he belongs in expensive suits in a high corner office. Bret Rensselaer will be portrayed by David Strathairn. And finally someone who doesn’t come into it until the end of Berlin Game but is quite integral going into the start of Mexico Set, Erich Stinnes, the Russian with Berlin in his blood, and going forward I need someone who can carry off both educated and evil, a man who commands a high position and yet sometimes is conflicted by his job and his beliefs. Of the characters that aren’t in my cast it is Stinnes I believe is the most important because of how he must interact with everyone he meets so I am going for a German actor I respect greatly in the form of Til Schweiger.
And so to my main three, the main guy, his important wife, and the defector who starts the whole thing off.
There will have to be a spoiler involved here unfortunately as Fiona is no mere wife, she is high up in British Intelligence, she leads Bernard to mistrust her due to how involved she is in absolutely everything, and eventually during the defection of Brahms 4 she is
A Russian spy. So who do you get that has to carry a marriage, a high pressure employment issue, and the traitorous acts of a double agent? Someone who would work well alongside my main guy, be a convincing sister to Tessa, and bring a character of the utmost importance to life in a believable and entertaining way. I can only think of one actor that ticks all of those boxes and that is the supreme talent of Rachel Weisz. Weisz is undoubtedly one of our greatest actors and has shown over the years that she can steal scenes from anyone, she also worked well with McAdams in Disobedience so I have no qualms about them stitching the story together.
The East German banker who has been the supplying the West with information about how the money moves around from Russian High Command to the KGB was being run for a long time and at some point by Bernard Samson when he was stationed in Berlin. As time has gone on Brahms 4 has become more and more uneasy with the secret sharing and when he stumbles across a handwritten memo from the Russian spy embedded in British Intelligence he decides he wants out. He wants safe passage to the West for his wife and he and the chance to go and see his son in South America. Bernard is sent initially to try and get him to continue his work for a couple of years but the more he learns about the possibly of a Russian spy the more he thinks that maybe Brahms 4 has served his purpose and finally goes East to arrange his defection. Who do you cast as a gentle, old banker from East Berlin that wants desperately to be safe? Well it’s my cast so I choose Christoph Waltz.
So to our main guy, the one who spans everything and ties the entire trilogy together, Bernard Samson. Samson is an early 40's pen pusher who has a past as a field agent in Berlin, he was raised there the son of an Army Intelligence officer, but who is now happy back in London working under superiors he barely respects but with his wife Fiona, quite high up in the Service herself, and his children. Trouble with a spy from East wanting to defect and not continue intelligence gathering, a possible double agent in his friend, and a conspiracy that may include the head of the service and his wife brings Samson more to the forefront and away from desk. We need an actor that can be believable as a middle aged family man who isn't university educated like most of the service, but knows his stuff and knows how to act. It has to be Paul Bettany, a well-respected and yet seemingly underrated actor with bags of talent that screams out for a shot at being the main guy. An actor that is versatile and can play any role, much like Samson himself, and knows when to be emotional and when to hold back to the point of cold and empty.
Image - IMDb, Goodreads.