When revisiting past crimes, be careful what you wish for. And, if you're making the film version, it becomes even more dodgy. This British TV production of Gerald Seymour's book, THE WAITING TIME, is perhaps 90% faithful to the overall plot outline, but its flaws are in the details.
In 1988, the British Army Intelligence Unit in West Berlin, in an unauthorized operation, recruits a young East Berliner, Hans Becker. The go-between is a twenty-something I Corps junior stenographer, Corporal Tracy Barnes, who becomes Becker's lover. Hans, sent by his controller to East Germany's Baltic coast to glean information from a Warsaw Pact military base, is captured and brutally murdered by Stasi Counter Espionage Captain Dieter Krause. Barnes knows Krause to be the killer. And Becker remains the first and only man that Tracy has ever slept with.
It's now the late 90s. The Berlin Wall is rubble, Germany is re-united, and Dieter is the new darling of the German intelligence service, the BfV, because of information he can provide on a Russian Army friend, Pyotr Rykov, now an influential power broker in the Kremlin. The Germans are showing Krause off, first to the Brits, then the Yanks. However, during a visit to an I Corps base in England, Dieter is recognized by Barnes, who physically attacks him. Clapped into the guardhouse, Tracy is interrogated by a veteran SIS man sent down from London, Albert Perkins of the German Desk, but he gets nothing. Released from detention by Albert and allowed "to run", Barnes goes to Germany to unearth eyewitness evidence to bring Dieter down. She's accompanied by Josh Mantle, a solicitor's clerk persuaded to the task by Tracy's mother. Josh, at 54, was once himself of I Corps. Stubbornly his own man and awkwardly dedicated to principles, Mantle was discarded by the Army at the end of the Cold War. Now, he's tired and on the ash heap of imminent old age. Against his better judgement, but always for the underdog, he's self-compelled to participate in Tracy's dangerous mission. Perkins follows Barnes and Mantle to Germany with his own agenda, i.e. to discredit Krause and put the upstart BfV back into "its place". In the meantime, Olive Harris of the SIS Russian Desk convinces the MI6 wallahs to activate her own scheme, i.e. to topple Pyotr Rykov (which would render Krause's humint pretty much valueless).
One who's read the book will notice the differences beginning with the opening scene, where Becker's target is an air base, not a radar installation. Then, the scriptwriters buff up the plot by making Rykov (Mike Sarne) a General with Presidential aspirations rather than a mere Colonel who's the personal assistant to the Defense Minister. There are four potential witnesses on Tracy's must-see list in the book; here there are only three. And, in the last third of the screen version, there are two gunfight sequences manufactured from scratch to satisfy the couch potatoes. In themselves, these deviations from the original don't hurt the presentation. Rather, it's what the scriptwriters have done to Tracy (Zara Turner), Mantle (John Thaw), and Harris (Buffy Davis).
Having been abandoned by the Army and having only recently lost his wife of two years to cancer, Mantle is a more sympathetic and tragic figure in the book, where Barnes, on the other hand, is an eminently prickly young lady with a Bad Attitude. Turner's version makes her almost sweet, which dilutes the tense love-hate relationship between Barnes and Mantle as concocted by Seymour. And here, Harris comes off as a rude, common, and wild-eyed over-achiever, not the dedicated, respected, and iron-willed veteran of the book, where she inspires even her younger SIS superiors to diffidently stand when she enters the room. In the screen version, Olive at least better explains the supremely cynical reason for the need to bring Rykov down.
Perhaps the best role is that of the manipulative Perkins (Struan Rodger), who reminded me of a reptilian Michael Caine. Rodger's Perkins is memorable in a way not achieved by the literary character.
Lastly, in the book, Barnes definitively states to Josh that she didn't witness Becker's execution. But, in the film, we watch her do it, and she admits to it. This causes one familiar with both the text and screen versions to question the need for Tracy's trip to Germany in the latter. Why not just give Perkin's her eyewitness evidence when he first asked for it since that would have been enough to make Krause (Hartmut Becker) legally prosecutable for murder?
An OK film if you haven't read the novel. Otherwise, don't bother.