The Constant Gardener directed by Fernando Mereilles


The Constant Gardener directed by Fernando Mereilles

Adapted from the novel by John Le Carré

John Le Carré‘s novel The Constant Gardener is a devastating attack
on the role of the pharmaceutical multinational companies and their
ruthless cynical exploitation of Africa. Like his more recent book,
Absolute Friends, it reveals a Le Carré who has become increasingly
enraged by the excesses of capitalism during the 1990s, especially the
Iraq war.

Tony Saunois

Both these novels are by far the best works he has produced since the
collapse of the Stalinist regimes in the former USSR and Eastern Europe
– which were the background to his excellent thrillers about the secret
services and such celebrated characters as George Smiley in Tinker,
Taylor, Soldier, Spy.

The film, The Constant Gardener, directed by Fernando Meirelles, is
in marked contrast to his previous work, City of God. However, it does
only credit to the novel and is a powerful depiction of the real role of
the major drug companies.

The story is of a plot to expose the Three Bs and KHC drug companies.
A major TB epidemic is anticipated and a new miracle cure, Dypraxa,
stands to make these companies billions of pounds once the epidemic
hits. However, the drug needs to be tested. A delay of three years to
allow for modifications to the drug would cost too much. So the drugs
are simply tested out on HIV positive Africans. The result is speedier
death at the hands of Three Bs – a calculated mass murder. As one
African doctor put it in the film: "This is how the world fucks Africa".

The central plot deals with the exposure of the scandal by Tessa
Quayle (played by Rachael Weisz) and her diplomat husband, Justin
(played by Ralph Fiennes) who works for the Foreign Office at the High
Commission in Kenya. She is determined to expose what is happening. He
begins life as the ‘fluffy’, impeccable diplomat unaware of what his
wife is up to. They meet at a conference early in the film, where she
makes an impassioned attack on the Iraq war.

Her murder, along with that of Arnold, an African doctor, shatters
Justin’s world and exposes him to the brutal ruthlessness of the
pharmaceutical giants and their drive for profit. The official version
put to Justin is that Tessa and Arnold were having an affair and were
murdered when away for a weekend. However, he becomes aware that in fact
Arnold was gay and his suspicion is aroused. Justin is driven to unearth
the murder and cover-up which involves the drug companies, the Kenyan
government and the British state.

Sir Bernard Pellegrin, of the Foreign and Commonwealth office, played
by Bill Nighy, gives a masterly portrayal of a representative of the
English ruling class. The understatement of language and impeccable
politeness is a velvet glove that covers a cold steel fist that is used
to defend class and ‘national’ interests.

The film is not without its humour as Tessa embarrasses assorted
diplomats and government officials at official receptions and parties.
But its central theme is the drive for profit by the drug companies.
"They are no better than the arms industry", complains Ghita, one of
Tessa’s friends.

The film differs from the book in some ways. Justin’s detective work
is shortened, as is his travel. The film is seen more through the eyes
of Kenya than the British diplomatic service.

However, Mierelles has directed a powerful film which although
providing no solutions, firmly puts the drug companies and the British
diplomatic service in the dock and is well worth going to see.

The actors succeed in bringing Le Carré’s characters to life. The
filming, on location in Kenya, reveals some spectacular shots. If
anybody thinks that the story is a bit far-fetched, they could consider
John Le Carré’s comments about his novel: "As my journey through the
pharmaceutical jungle progressed, I came to realise that, by comparison
with the reality, my story was as tame as a holiday postcard".

The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré
Hodder and Stoughton £7.99
Available from Socialist Books