KSL Movie Show review: ‘The Pigeon Tunnel’ is a brilliant storytelling effort that spy novel lovers will enjoy
Oct 20, 2023, 9:28 AM | Updated: Oct 26, 2023, 12:20 pm
(Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)
In the “Kingsman: The Secret Service” movie, Colin Firth states emphatically, “Manners maketh Man.”
I thought about that line while I was watching “The Pigeon Tunnel” — but from a different perspective.
Author David Cornwell learned manners absolutely but for another purpose. He did it to dupe people, as his father Ronnie, a “confidence trickster” (his words not mine), had been fooling people all of David’s life.
So to win the favor of his conman dad, he joined him in his schemes, which led him to become a seasoned liar, which led him into the spy business for Great Britain and eventually writing spy thrillers.
Where “The Pigeon Tunnel” started
In fact, his first few novels were a result of him first being part of England’s MI-5 (the domestic-spy division) in the late ’50s and eventually into MI-6 (foreign division) where he was stationed in West Berlin during the building of the Berlin Wall. But since he was active in the spy service, his bosses insisted he write under a pseudonym. He chose John le Carré because it sounded sexy, mysterious and European.
But before I get too far ahead, it’s important to understand where the title of this Errol Morris documentary comes from. One of Cornwell’s early teenage memories of working alongside his father was visiting a British seaside casino, which was next to a hunting club.
The “sportsmen” would stand on a lawn-covered veranda overlooking the ocean and shoot pigeons as they were released out of an underground tunnel toward the sea.
Sadly, even the ones that managed to escape the shotgun blasts, turned back to the casino rooftop cages (the only home they knew) and tragically went through the process all over again.
Ronnie used the moment to explain to young David, that humans like pigeons could be just as easily conned with the proper amount of charm, wit and polished savior faire. That experience haunted the young Mr. Cornwell for the rest of his life, made him detest his father, but turned him into an imaginative storyteller.
What’s extraordinary about this intimate conversation between Cornwell and Morris, is that he rarely gave interviews. He turned down British knighthood because he thought the whole thing was pompous and duplicitous. He lived so far away to the west of London that his ocean-view country manor was located in a place called Land’s End.
But given his advanced age (late 80s), it appears Cornwell was eager to reveal both the darkest and brightest corners of his fascinating life. He tells stories surrounding his numerous spy novels, most famous of which include “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” (1963), “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (1974) and “The Night Manager” (1993). Plus, he details how some of his most compelling characters were developed from real people and experiences.
Amazing story, even if it’s not for younger audiences
“The Pigeon Tunnel” is an exceptional effort by a brilliant man to tell his story, warts and all. Perhaps, younger audiences might not find it as compelling, but having grown up reading his spy novels, I was hanging onto every, well-spoken, thought-out word.
“The Pigeon Tunnel” is rated PG-13 for violence, smoking and brief language. Written and directed by Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris (“The Fog of War,” “A Brief History of Time”). It was filmed in England, runs 92 minutes and will be in select theaters and streaming on Apple TV+.