The Constant Gardener

DISTRIB/RELEASE DATE: Focus Features, Aug. 31

CATEGORY: adapted, from the novel by John le Carre

STORYLINE: When his activist wife, Tessa (Rachel Weisz), is murdered in Africa, mild-mannered British diplomat Julian Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) becomes determined to learn the truth about her life and her death. He discovers a conspiracy between a multinational pharmaceutical company and the British government to cover up deaths caused by an experimental drug. Eventually, he takes over Tessa’s work, knowing he, too, will be killed unless he lets the matter drop.

ABOUT THE SCRIPT: Le Carre’s stories usually defy screen adaptation, but screenwriter Caine weaves the author’s recurring themes of intimacy and betrayal into an unusual cross between a thriller and a love story. Caine found himself writing three dramatic strands: “(The) political content, about the nefarious doings of international pharma in Africa; that personal search by a bereaved man to discover who his wife really was; and a framework that is suspenseful enough to keep the audience interested.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “To keep it suspenseful, to put the romantic content, and Justin’s search for that relationship, at the center of the piece and keep everything else at the periphery,” says Caine. He notes le Carre’s novel is told in a nonlinear fashion, and is more of an anti-big-pharma tract than a thriller. Caine had to give the story a different shape and some suspense. “A movie audience has to be pulled through the movie by the desire to know, in stages,” says Caine.

BREAKTHROUGH IDEA: First, Caine decided to put the love story front and center. Second, he took out the two Scotland Yard detectives who give Julian the details of Tessa’s death at the beginning of the book, making the story more of a mystery.

FAVORITE SCENE: Julian reviews Tessa’s emails, voice mails and video chats on her cousin’s computer, learning the details of the scandal that got her killed and, in her own words, confirming she really did love him and was faithful. “Until he can nail that down, he’s not free to mourn and he’s not free to finish her work,” Caine says. The messages work like a technological ghost, letting Tessa answer his questions from the grave. “It’s the meshing,” says Caine, “of the political side of the movie and the personal.”

CHOICE LINES: Old spy Tim Donohue, in a meeting with Julian on a remote plateau: “We’ve something in common, you and I. We’ll both be dead by Christmas. There’s a contract out on you — same people that did Tessa, I shouldn’t wonder. Mine’s cancer.”

WRITER’S BIO: London-born novelist and screenwriter Caine boasts credits ranging from British TV drama “The Chief” to Pierce Brosnan’s bow as 007, “GoldenEye.” He wrote pic “Rory O’Shea Was Here,” a Focus release that won the Irish Film & Television Award for script.

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