On Friday afternoon I went to the cinema by myself for the first ever time, and I sat in front of the screen with roughly twenty other moviegoers to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on the day it opened. I didn’t need company, for I was totally engrossed for a full 127 minutes by this wonderful film.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, all I will say is that it’s set during the cold war, and after Control’s death, George Smiley – former Secret Intelligence Service spymaster is brought out of forced retirement to run a clandestine mission to seek out a Soviet mole in the heart of the upper echelons of the ‘Circus’.
The look of the film is pitch perfect. Being set during the early 1970s, the backgrounds are full of that particularly nasty brown that hides the cigarette fug, and outside everything is grey in the shadowy twilight world of the spooks.
This film is a thinking person’s spy movie. Although there are moments of action, most of it is conversation, observation and contemplation. Indeed George Smiley, although often in shot, doesn’t speak for around the first fifteen minutes. Instead he quietly watches and absorbs.
Gary Oldman has, for me, made George Smiley his own. I hadn’t thought anyone could surpass Alec Guinness in the classic BBC adaptation, but his Smiley is a masterclass in stillness, making every little glance and every word count. You sense that he is seething underneath though he’s that intense, yet he hides his emotions so well – Guinness appears an empty shell in comparison.
Oldman has a wonderful supporting cast with John Hurt as Control, Benedict Cumberbatch as Smiley’s wingman Peter Guillam, Mark Strong (who can do no wrong) as the wronged agent Jim Prideaux, and a cameo from Kathy Burke as dear old Connie, plus the quartet of other suspects …
Told partly in flashback, there are some wonderful scenes – particularly of the office Christmas party at the Circus where all they all sing the Russian national anthem! However, this is given a sad edge by Smiley seeing his wife in a fumble with another man. In the TV series, we got to see both Smiley’s wife Anne, and his Russian opponent Karla, although Karla never spoke. In the film, we never fully see Anne, and Smiley recounts the tale of how he met Karla to Guillam in one memorable scene where he almost lets himself go.
Directed by Swede Tomas Alfredson of the wonderful vampire film Let the Right One in, the film has a similar feel of light and dark; the dark being claustrophobic yet having time to let things play out fully. The screenplay successfully distils the essence of the novel brilliantly, without leaving any big plot holes or losing key characters.
I would have been happy to immediately watch this film again it was that good, and Oldman is a revelation as Smiley where less is more. I can’t wait for the Blu-ray and must re-read the book! (10/10)
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To explore on Amazon UK, click below:
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy : Complete BBC Series [DVD]  starring Alec Guinness
Let The Right One In [DVD] directed by Tomas Alfredson