The Pigeon Tunnel

David Cornwell, a.k.a. spy novelist John le Carré, opens up to Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris for the author’s final interview, reflecting on the influences he took away from his father’s life as a con man.

“Why is betrayal an important concept to you?” It’s a question Errol Morris puts to David Cornwell, the renowned spy novelist better known by his nom de plume, John le Carré. The theme of betrayal haunts what would be Cornwell’s last interview before his death in 2020.

Cornwell once worked for the British spy agencies MI5 and MI6. He sparingly gave interviews, but accepted Morris’ invitation because he saw it “as something definitive.” He had already begun a process of opening up in his memoir The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life.

Crucial to the narrative is the author’s relationship to his father Ronnie, an inveterate gambler and con artist. Cornwell’s mother disappeared when he was five, so his main frame of reference was the world of his father, who was endlessly on the run from the mob or the police. The title The Pigeon Tunnel comes from Cornwell’s experience as a child going to Monte Carlo with Ronnie. Imprinted on his memory was a shooting range on the top of a cliff. Beneath the grass was a tunnel from which trapped pigeons were ejected over the sea as targets.

Morris keeps the visuals as lively as the conversation, creating his own cinematic imaginings of Cornwell’s history, spliced together with famous film and TV adaptations of Le Carré’s novels. The interview covers some of the author’s most famous works including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; and A Perfect Spy. Whether you’re an old fan of Le Carré or a newcomer, this rare encounter is something to savour.

Programme Type: Film

Director: Errol Morris

Cast: David Cornwell

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 93 minutes

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