John le Carré: Biopic of MI5 spy could be subject of new film

The Ink Factory has secured the rights, according to Adam Sisman

Viewers settling in to enjoy the next episode of The Night Manager may soon get a chance to see the man behind the BBC1 espionage thriller. A biopic of the book’s author John le Carré, who worked for MI5 and MI6, could be headed for the screen. 

Adam Sisman, who wrote John le Carré: The Biography, told The Independent Bath Literature Festival last week that the film rights to his book had been snapped up. 

The Ink Factory, the production company behind the BBC’s adaptation of The Night Manager and several other Le Carré novels, has secured the rights, he revealed. 

Simon and Stephen Cornwell, the sons of Le Carré, whose real name is David Cornwell, founded the company in 2010. “David has quite a say in what the Ink Factory do,” Mr Sisman said. “I had to sell it to them, really. What was I selling? The rights to someone else’s life.”

The book lifts the lid on Le Carré’s troubled childhood as well as his decision to quit school and head to Switzerland where he worked for MI5 and subsequently MI6. 

A year after writing The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in 1963, he left the intelligence service to become a full-time writer and would go on to write a series of bestselling espionage novels including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The Ink Factory first adapted A Most Wanted Man, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rachel McAdams, and is due to release Our Kind of Traitor, starring Damian Lewis and Ewan McGregor. 

Mr Sisman added that as Le Carré’s biographer he could make an appearance in the film, and suggested McGregor would be the perfect actor to play him. 

Le Carré is the first living subject for Mr Sisman, who has written biographies of Hugh Trevor-Roper and James Boswell, as well as an account of the friendship between William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 

“I haven’t seen [Le Carré] since the book was published,” said Mr Sisman. “I got a letter from him on publication day, which said: ‘Enjoy your moment in the sun’. It was quite a nice letter but a little barbed.

“I think it’s been a bit of a bruising process for him and I’m not surprised by that. I don’t think I would have done my job properly if it hadn’t been.” He added that he did not think he would be invited to Le Carré’s home again.

Le Carré had toyed with the idea of a biography since 1989. At one point it was going to be written by Robert Harris, before Mr Sisman stepped in. 

Le Carré will release his memoirs this year. The Pigeon Tunnel will be his first piece of non-fiction writing and is set to “unlock some of the mysteries of the books”.

Mr Sisman said: “He has a certain amount of detachment from his public persona. The fact it’s a pseudonym – that he is John le Carré but he isn’t – gives him a bit of detachment.”

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