For fans of espionage thrillers and spycraft, John le Carré has become synonymous with complex storylines, high-stakes missions, deceptive characters, and sometimes morally questionable protagonists. But there’s more to the master of spy novels, and The Pigeon Tunnel aims to pull the curtains on the lesser-known side of the literary legend. The upcoming documentary film explores the life, career, and untold stories of the former MI5 agent, David Cornwell, who is better known by his pen name, John le Carré. Written and directed by Academy Award-winning Errol Morris, The Pigeon Tunnel features the most personal and candid conversation with the iconic novelist in what is his final interview. Set in the backdrop of the raging Cold War the 94-minute film spans six decades of le Carré’s life and work, leading into the present day. Along with an in-depth, one-on-one, personal conversation between Morris and le Carré, the film is interspersed with rare and unseen archival footage and dramatized clips of significant moments from his past. The film draws inspiration and materials from le Carré’s bestselling memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life, which takes us on an extraordinary journey into the never-before-seen parts of the celebrated but very private author’s personal experiences.

John le Carré (David Cornwell) and Errol Morris behind-the-scenes of The Pigeon Tunnel
Image via Apple TV+

Before we get to more about The Pigeon Tunnel, a little background on le Carré deems fit. John le Carré, born David John Moore Cornwell, served in the MI5 and later in MI6 during the turbulent Cold War, where he was involved in conducting interrogations, wiretapping, and handling agents. His security service experiences became the foundations for his work as a novelist and turned him into a bestselling author of spy fiction. But unlike the hottest spies and intelligence agents in fiction of those times, le Carré’s protagonists stand out in their authenticity of their nature, and not particularly in the striking lifestyles or social personas. His heroes cannot be called typical heroes of stories, but rather real people whose morality and intentions are often questioned, making them raw and relatable to his readers. From his first novel Call for the Dead in 1961 to Silverview of 2021, le Carré has given the world some of the best spy thrillers of all time. Some of his most notable works include The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Night Manager, The Tailor of Panama, and The Constant Gardener, etc., each of which have been made into highly acclaimed films and series. While his death in 2020 left a major void in the world of literature, his legacy remains through his novels and their cinematic adaptations. And now, in this upcoming Apple TV+ original film, fans have a chance to look into the novelist’s life like never before.

As the documentary film awaits its release this October, here’s our detailed guide on everything we know so far about The Pigeon Tunnel, including the trailer, release date, featured cast, and more.

When Is The Pigeon Tunnel Coming Out?

Image via Apple TV+

The Pigeon Tunnel had its global premiere at the 50th Telluride Film Festival on September 1, 2023, followed by a screening at TIFF on September 11, 2023. Now, the documentary is set for a wide streaming release on October 20, 2023, on Apple TV+.

RELATED:7 John Le Carré Novels That Inspired Great Spy Thriller Movies and Series

Where Can You Watch The Pigeon Tunnel?

the logo for Apple TV+
Image via Apple

A network original, The Pigeon Tunnel is set to premiere exclusively on Apple TV+. Available to watch with a subscription, the film joins the platform’s long list of award-winning, critically acclaimed documentaries like STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie, Sidney (a film on the iconic actor and filmmaker Sidney Poitier), Stephen Curry: Underrated, and several others.

What Is ‘The Pigeon Tunnel’ About?

John le Carré (David Cornwell) in The Pigeon Tunnel
Image via Apple TV+

As released by Apple TV+, Simon and Stephen Cornwell describe the film to be,

Full of deep insight, and surprising, amusing and often profoundly moving anecdotes, ‘The Pigeon Tunnel’ charts a conversation between two great minds, both consummate storytellers; one who wove extraordinary fiction from the events he experienced, the other whose interrogation of those events has led so often to a greater truth. Together, they explore the events of the Cold War, and of le Carré’s life, testing the boundaries of truth, memory and imagination. The layered and unorthodox film is a tête-à-tête between a filmmaker and a novelist – both masters of their craft – grappling with the roots of the creative process, the power of fiction and our responsibility to the truth.

Is there a Trailer for The Pigeon Tunnel?

Apple TV+ released the official trailer of The Pigeon Tunnel in August 2023, which takes us on an intimate exploration of the childhood, adult life, and career of le Carré. The one-and-half-minute clip opens with a dramatic frame of a tunnel with birds flying out to the light at the end of it. It’s almost like a scene from one of his stories, where the tunnel might be a euphemism for the path he traveled, quite like his heroes. Set to a theatrical score, the trailer feels like a film adaptation of his work – thrilling, suspenseful, and layered. The clip shows Morris and le Carré in a very personal Q&A session, where the author talks about how the motifs in his work were inspired by his early life, like betrayal, for instance, that remains an important concept in his stories. The trailer also shows clips from some of the TV and film adaptations of his novels, and dramatic renditions of some influential chapters of his formative years. And last but not least, the writer-director is also heard in his frank interrogation of the author who aims to answer all questions “truthfully.”

Who Stars in ‘The Pigeon Tunnel’?

Although the film is about John le Carré, there are a few actors who enact select characters from his personal life to showcase a dramatized version of some events. In various roles, Jake Dove (The Man with His Fingers in His Ears) features as a younger David Cornwell; Charlotte Hamblin (Downton Abbey) as Olive Moore Cornwell, David’s mother; Alan Mehdizadeh (The Outfit) as The Bookie, and Douglas Rankine (River City) as Rudolf Hess.

RELATED:The 10 Best Oscar-Winning Documentaries of All Time, Ranked by Letterboxd Score

Who is Making ‘The Pigeon Tunnel’?

Stephen Cornwell, John le Carré (David Cornwell) and Simon Cornwell behind-the-scenes of The Pigeon Tunnel
Image via Apple TV+

The Pigeon Tunnel is written and directed for Apple TV+ by Academy Award-winning Errol Morris. American filmmaker and documentarian Morris is reputed for making films on unique subjects and that explore the epistemology of the characters/subjects. Some of his most notable works include The Thin Blue Line, A Brief History of Time (1991), and Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, among many others. He also made a fiction mystery drama in 1991, The Dark Wind, based on the eponymous novel by Tony Hillerman. For his 2023 documentary, Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, Morris won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

The Pigeon Tunnel is produced by BAFTA winner Dominic Crossley-Holland (Babies) and Steven Hathaway (First Person). John le Carré’s sons, Emmy-nominated Simon Cornwell and Stephen Cornwell, who have previously produced the series The Night Manager, also serve as producers under their production banner, The Ink Factory. Hossein Amini, Michael Lesslie, Joe Tsai, Michele Wolkoff, and Katherine Butler serve as executive producers. The documentary film is also produced by Fourth Floor Productions in association with Jago Films, Storyteller Productions, and 127 Wall Productions. The film’s dramatic score can be credited to Golden Globe and BAFTA-winning pianist Philip Glass (The Hours) and Scottish BAFTA-winning composer Paul Leonard-Morgan (Boston Strangler).

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