‘Sucked into the immorality of the secret world’ – The Pigeon Tunnel review | Films | Entertainment


This documentary basically shows two men chatting in a room, interspersed with movie clips, dramatic reenactments and lots of slow-motion shots of pigeons. As those men are David Cornwell and talented filmmaker Errol Morris, this unpromising formula makes for riveting viewing.

Cornwell is better known as former British spy and best-selling novelist John le Carré, and Morris conducted this fascinating interview before le Carré’s death in December 2020.

The recurring bird motifs relate to a memory that haunted le Carré throughout his life.

In his teens, his con-man father Ronnie Cornwell took him to a Monte Carlo casino where guests could fire shotguns at pigeons bred on the roof and forced inside through tunnels. Those that survived returned to their cages to experience the same ordeal the following day.

Le Carré doesn’t know why this experience stayed with him. But betrayal and genteel violence became key themes in his fiction.

The writer also feels he was destined to navigate his own tunnel of deception. He occasionally worked as his father’s accomplice, and attempted to fit in with the upper classes at public school (he suspects his father bribed the headmaster to get him a place) but all of this helped him to land his first job for the Government.

At university, his talent for subterfuge was spotted by an MI5 recruiter. After gaining the trust of a communist student, le Carré was able to pass a list of undergraduate party members to his handler.

A career in both MI5 and MI6 followed, before he felt he was being sucked into the immorality of “the secret world”. He resigned after Kim Philby was exposed as a Soviet double agent and he started to examine his experiences in fiction, a profession he refers to as another form of “larceny”.

Morris assumes the role of an interrogator as he grills le Carré about betrayal, deception, and a profession that demands loyalty from the shifty, the deluded and the needy.

The Pigeon Tunnel, Cert 12, On Apple TV+ now


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