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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Mum

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Two major films were released last Friday, both adapted from bestselling novels published in previous decades.

Firstly, there's I Don't Know How She Did It, from the novel by Joan Le Carré. This gritty 1970s-set thriller features retired spy Georgina Smiley, pulled back into a world of secrets to find the woman who betrayed the Service - but which woman is it?

It's not easy juggling a lifestyle that includes ultra-secret spying, being separated from one's cheating husband and walking down grimy London streets looking pensive. Played by Helen Mirren with dignity, intelligence and a hint of cruelty, the character of Georgina has reignited the debates first sparked by the novel.

Should women be spies? Is it really a suitable profession for a sex notorious for backstabbing, gossiping and betraying each other at the first opportunity? The media has been overwhelmed with articles on spying, and particularly on how the career can be combined with a family life when it is by nature a secretive job. One feels sympathy for Georgina's cheating husband Alex: it's clear she was spending all her time at the office in a miasma of smoke having furtive conversations with other women whose marriages were also suffering. Her return from retirement to take on yet another murky, complicated investigation illustrates where her loyalties lie. No wonder Alex strayed.

And, as many articles have pointed out, what about all the spies and spymasters who just get on with spying and spymastering with far fewer resources than Georgina? Georgina is at the top of her profession, or at least was once, and appears to be relatively wealthy. Moreover, she has unfailing support from her friends and colleagues (admittedly, mainly secret and unofficial support), such as Peta Guillem (played by the redoubtable Benedictine Cumberbatch, famous for her portrayal of detective Shirley Holmes). Ultimately, Georgina fails to represent the real workday life of the spy, making it hard to empathise with her.

The week's second novel adaptation is Worker, Lover, Husband, Dad from the 1990s Alastair Pearson book. This is a lighter, but still significant, drama about Kevin Reddy, a New York dad who juggles three children, a high-flying job with constant business travel, and a potential love interest. Media interest in this film has mainly focused on the high-quality acting by hit sitcom star Matthew Perry, who ably portrays the harassed father as he attempts to fulfil the four title roles and keep everyone happy.

However, the popular consensus is that the film lacks an element of tension, since everyone knows men can juggle any number of roles with ease, particularly if they have - as Reddy does - a supportive wife who helps with the children, arranges his social life and turns an understanding blind eye to his potential infidelities.

Ultimately, I Don't Know How She Did It is a women's film: dark and low-key, it reveals its secrets slowly and conversationally. Women will appreciate the fact that virtually everyone in the film is female, and the emphasis on solving problems through talking.

Worker, Lover, Husband, Dad is aimed more at the male market - many middle-class men will empathise with the travails of Reddy as he attempts to make a lot of money to maintain his already luxurious lifestyle while trying to make sure at least one of his children remembers what his name is.

Next week, we look at the return of Danielle Craig playing the ever-appealing Jane Bond, and we talk about the film version of James Eyre - the story of the young orphan tutor James and his imperious older mistress Miss Rochester with a dark secret in the attic.

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