Should you watch another intensely stylish trans-European spy thriller? Calum Henderson says yes, you should.

Look at us, watching the hottest new TV series in the world, for free, without going to jail for piracy, the same day it airs on the BBC. This is the future we've all been dreaming about, basically ever since the arrival of television.

History will remember 2018 as the year those dreams finally came true, and when TVNZ On Demand got extremely good.

It's also the year, it seems, of the intensely stylish trans-European spy thriller – though The Little Drummer Girl cuts across the continent in a quite different way to the cat and mouse of Killing Eve.

Advertisement

The six-part series is an adaptation of a John le Carre novel, directed by South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook (The Handmaiden, Oldboy).

A strange pairing on paper, maybe – the author of all those dense, dog-eared paperbacks you always see at op shops and baches; a director revered for his wild stylistic flourishes – but, like the 2016 TV adaptation of le Carre's The Night Manager, it's turned out to be an emphatic success.

This one is set in 1979, starting in Germany and taking in England, Israel and Greece before the end of the first episode. Many of the show's stylistic strengths are right there in the opening set piece (suitcase, ticking watch, explosion) – the precise, propulsive editing, a bright, saturated colour palette, dreamy retro costume and set design.

That's one part of what makes it such an enjoyable watch. The cast, all introduced in good time, is another. Michael Shannon leads them out as the deadpan Israeli spymaster Martin Kurtz, hell bent on bringing down the Palestinian revolutionaries responsible for the bombing. "The budget for what I am proposing," he convinces his boss in Tel Aviv, "will cost less than the gas in your jets for a single raid."

His plan is even better than blowing things up with rockets – he wants to infiltrate and bring down the cell from within, using a crack team of actors and special agents. Key to this is young English thespian Charmian 'Charlie' Ross (Florence Pugh), whose recruitment necessitates sending the whole theatre troupe to Greece, where she is seduced and semi-kidnapped by smouldering international man of mystery Gadi (Alexander Skarsgard).

It's then that things start getting really good. "I am the producer, writer and director of our little show," Kurtz tells Charlie on arrival in Athens, where the squad has assembled, "and I would like to talk to you about your part."

Everybody's playing a role, but there's also very real chemistry between Charlie and Gadi to be negotiated. The show's tension comes as much from this as from the high-stakes spy games which begin in the second episode.

It's a complex and meticulously plotted story, one that would be easy to turn into a muddled mess on the screen. But so far – we're three episodes in now – Park Chan-wook's gripping, lively adaptation is proving more than up to the task.

There's still plenty of time to catch up on some of the best TV we'll see anywhere all year.

The Little Drummer Girl is available for streaming via TVNZ On Demand.