In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6.
Having stumbled across ‘Smiley’s People‘ on BBC iPlayer following its recent run on BBC4, it seemed like a good time to revisit the 2011 adaptation of John le Carré’s ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy‘. Helmed by the Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, this tale of treachery within the ranks of MI6 is set in the bleak and unremittingly grim 70’s Britain. Alfredson absolutely nails the drab colours of 1970s London, with grainy shots aplenty – his pedigree having directed the likes of ‘Let The Right One In‘ is brought to the fore in trading freezing scandinavian landscapes for the washed out colourless facades of the English capital. It certainly has the look of many of the recent Scandinavian police dramas that have proved so popular on television.
The plot centres around the seemingly doomed attempt by John Hurt’s head of the British Intelligence service’s (The Circus) to obtain secrets from a General in Hungary during which an agent (Mark Strong) is shot and captured by the Soviets. The fallout from these events shines a political spotlight on The Circus bringing about the removal of Control (John Hurt) and George Smiley (Gary Oldman). All is not as it seems though, as Smiley is tasked with investigating the events that lead to the embarrassing failure in Hungary, along the way uncovering details of a double agent within the Circus and casting doubt on the true intentions of the mission in Hungary.
The complexity of the plot can’t be done justice in a simple synopsis (and isn’t the easiest to explain in a short review!). The quality of le Carré’s writing weaves a complex web leading up several garden paths as suspicion is cast upon various different characters (the titular Tinker, Tailer, Soldier and Spy) before Smiley unveils the true identity of the mole at no little personal cost to himself – but rather like the chess pieces in Control’s flat, Smiley manoeuvres himself into centre stage at The Circus. The ending actually has some similarities with ‘Skyfall‘ in as much as it sets up future entries in the le Carré Smiley series.
The cast really is a who’s who of British thesps, from Toby Jones’ turn as Control’s replacement through Benedict Cumberbatch to the suave Colin Firth and the emotionally damaged Tom Hardy. The performances are without exception thoroughly absorbing. Oldman in particular being in the unenviable situation of following the legendary Alec Guinness in the role of Smiley yet he makes it his own. It’s a very still, old fashioned performance in as much as he has the typical English reserve, gives away little emotion even when confronted with devastating truths about his own marriage.
The comparison with ‘Skyfall‘ pretty much starts and finishes with the stage setting for potential future instalments given Tinker Tailor’s more thoughtful, convoluted storyline but the violence when it arrives is both shocking and graphic. It’s a film that will leave you thinking about it for days as you go back over the story and piece together the mole’s double crossing and treasonous relationship with his own friends and the Soviets. Oldman teased the possibility of a sequel last year – it’s certainly a world that deserves to be expanded.
Review by Mark Thatcher
Directed By: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Dencik, Stephen Grahan, Simon McBurney, Toby Jones, John Hurt, Kathy Burke and Roger Lloyd-Pack