It’s the end of summer, and normally I would try bringing you a few recommendations of international thrillers that have only recently become available to stream in the US, but to be honest, the pickings are just too slim. Maybe it’s the dragons, swords, and sandals boxing out other productions, or it’s sheer bad luck, but there just aren’t enough new international series to recommend in good conscience, so what I’ll do instead is go back to a few old favorites—some overlooked, some canceled too soon, and others you surely know and quite likely saw, but now is as good a time as any to revisit.
(FX on Hulu)
No, I’m not proposing you go re-watch the Danish/Swedish juggernaut, Bron. I’m talking about the FX production based on that series, set in the borderlands between El Paso and Juárez, starring Demián Bichir and Diane Kruger in the lead roles, with some really interesting supporting performances (interesting, and occasionally unhinged) from Matthew Lillard, Emily Rios, and Lyle Lovett. Putting aside the polyglot realism, the show boasted one of the more intricate plots in modern TV history, and it treated its audience with enough respect to believe they could follow. (To be honest, it was pretty hard to follow, but that’s not the point.) The Bridge was a compelling blend of style and substance.
This was quite the splashy international co-production (BBC, AMC, and Cuba Pictures), when it came out, adapted by Hossein Amini and James Watkins and based on a hit book, but it never seemed to reach a wider audience, maybe because of the slow-burn pace, or all those muted Anglo suppressions of emotions. It centers on a wealthy family in England with deep ties organized crime in Russia. It was also about the modernization of global crime, corruption in high finance, money laundering, and really, really good clothes. If you want a good mob series that will bring you a bit of Anglo expat glamor, too, this is the one for you.
The Night Manager
(AMC+ / Amazon Prime)
Certainly this is the prime choice here, and most readers will have seen it, so what I’m really urging is for you to watch it again, all those lush settings and Tom Hiddleston moving through the action like a slightly nervous and menacing cat with impeccable posture and that unnerving smile. Just a reminder of a few locales: a luxe hotel atop a Swiss mountain, a luxe hotel in Cairo, a converted fortress / luxe villa in Mallorca…The production value on this le Carré adaptation was absolutely top-notch, and the plot held its own, too: international gun trafficker (Hugh Laurie) chased after by a dogged agent (Olivia Coleman) and her mole (Hiddleston). You won’t be sorry to spend another weekend with that crew.
Little Drummer Girl
(AMC+ / Amazon Prime)
Yes, there was another John le Carré adaptation after The Night Manager, and it’s actually worth watching, assuming you can get past Michael Shannon hamming it up in the role of a Mossad chieftain and focus on what’s good here, namely Florence Pugh and Alexander Skarsgård hopscotching around Southern Europe. Also, the adaptation stays true to some of le Carré’s headier meditations on the affinity between theater and espionage, so if that sounds appealing to you, and why wouldn’t it, this could be the spy series you need.
To be candid, I too forgot this miniseries existed until quite recently, when I was going back through Olivier Assayas’ filmography in the wake of an Irma Vep viewing, and suddenly I remembered the French-German co-production that was, in 2010, a fairly interesting experiment in the new limited series format. It is, of course, a look at the life and crimes of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, known as Carlos the Jackal, the Venezuelan terrorist who brought a new comfort with violence to 1970s radical politics in Europe. Edgar Ramirez is in the title role, and he delivers a very strong performance. The byzantine streets of lefty politics in the era make for surprisingly fascinating viewing, too, as Carlos moves between different cells and groups, all making their own compromises with ideals and fates