Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

It’s a throwback to the 1970s in more ways than one.  A spy story set in the times before the Cold War ended, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the enemy was clearly the Soviet KGB.  It also brings back the memory of the BBC dramatisation of the novel with Alec Guinness as George Smiley, a milestone of late 1970s television when there were only three channels to watch.

It also references the paranoid thriller movies of that decade, Three Days of the Condor came to mind (did Robert Redford really wear glasses and a corduroy coat, or is that just my fevered imagination?)  The plot is about solving a puzzle; it’s about whom can be trusted.  It’s most definitely not about car chases.

I read one review by a person who declared their preference for the action genre a la ‘Bourne Ultimatum’, and that decided for me that I might enjoy Tinker Tailor….’.  I may be alone in preferring the first of the Matt Damon ‘Bourne’ (Identity?) trilogy, which I thought gave a slightly sideways interpretation of the espionage movie, which the two subsequent (much more financially successful) films with their endless car chases entirely lacked, and which had me pressing the fast forward button.

So if you’re of the ‘spy film have to have ‘action sequences’’ school of thought, you might not enjoy this quietly intense piece.  But if you are interested in character studies of people who have had their faith in their own and other people’s loyalties undermined, then it’s definitely worth a look.

Were the 1970s really that brown?  Possibly.  The buildings of the Circus look like a cobbled collection of outhouses and basements somewhere in central London; a world away from the blue and silver lit swishness of hi-tech espionage in contemporary fiction.  All the haircuts are awful, but the rest of the styling stays the right side of parody.

Told through quick switching flash back, identifiable to me only because we see Smiley swap his old horn rimmed spectacles for bigger black frames after he is dismissed from the Circus at the start of the narrative, the story is of the high stakes search for a Soviet mole at the most senior level in British intelligence.  Operating under the radar and off the books, Gary Oldman’s Smiley investigates his former colleagues, convinced of the truth that his old adversary Carla has one of them in his pocket.

The performances, from a collection of actors I couldn’t have handpicked from my list of favourites any better, are subtle; it’s about the tone of voice, the facial expressions and the things not said, as everyone circles each other unwilling to believe that they have been betrayed and there can really be a mole.  It’s a high stakes game of chess rather than a flash bang violence fest, and much more engaging for it.

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