Guest Author Judy Nelson has provided this review of the film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). Thank you, Judy!  

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, SpyTINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011)

Short Description of the Movie  

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an espionage thriller produced in 2011 and directed by Tomas Alfredson. The story is based on the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy novel written by John le Carre in 1974. Director Tomas Alfredson also created a movie about vampires – Let the Right One In.

The movie stars Gary Oldman in the lead role of George Smiley, an officer of British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy cast also involves Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, David Dencik, Mark Strong, and Ciaran Hinds. This films is definitely a piece of atmospheric cinematography in the genre. TTSS was celebrated by the audience, received BAFTA Award for Best British Film, and three Academy Awards for Best Actor, Best Original Score, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Background Story  

The novel written by le Carre was previously adapted into a TV mini-series on the BBC in 1979 with the lead role brilliantly played by Alec Guinness. However, Gary Oldman was wonderful in this persona as well.

John le Carre is known for the novel The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, 1963, a riposte to the cult figure of James Bond. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was the turn of the tide in espionage fiction. The novel explored moral inquiries similar to those pursued by Joseph Conrad in his Lord Jim and Chance.

The political situation of 1974 in the world with its self-deception and dishonesty reminds us of the current times when anyone can easily become a double-agent for multiple reasons, including a personal political choice, a career aspiration or a perverse desire to dominate at any price.

The Protagonist

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy describes the events that took place during the Cold War. At the center of the film is a figure of George Smiley, an unremarkable man of middle age. His moral principles and keen observation ability remind of those of Conrad’s Marlow. Smiley was investigating a mole sent by the Secret Service of the Soviet Union in the top ranks of the British Secret Service nicknamed the Circus in the film.

The performance of Gary Oldman is equally plausible to the one of Alec Guinness.  Oldman appeared as a tired, experienced man who excited spectators with his canine ability to investigate. Sometimes he reminded a British cult actor – Michael Redgrave – who retained attention with his sexuality radiance from the TV screens. You can grade Oldman’s performance yourself, by watching the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy DVD that is available. 

The Plot

When the mini-series was released on TV, viewers enjoyed the play of Alec Guinness who portrayed Smiley. Guinness filled the performance with his feline plasticity. His performance presented a recognizable image of British Intelligence during the Cold War. Alfredson took the same story, made it shorter, and altered the order of events in the novel. However, he retained the overall tone of the book as well as its ambivalences and controversies.

A mission to Budapest went wrong: at the beginning of the 70s, Jim Prideaux, a British agent, was sent by Control – the head of the Circus, performed by John Hurt – to meet a Hungarian general who wished to defect. Prideaux was shot, arrested and tortured. This resulted in a chain of events that followed the incident: Control and Smiley, the right-hand man of Control, were dismissed.

In the film, the events occurred in Hungary instead of Czechoslovakia like in le Carre’s novel. Also, a Russian defector jumped into the ship in Turkey instead of Hong Kong when she was threatened. This reminds spectators of an episode of the story told by Ian Fleming’s in From Russia with Love where James Bond was threatened in Istanbul. This event triggered the investigation of a Soviet mole. Smiley was tasked to identify who was the traitor from a suspect list of five former colleagues.

Shortly after his dismissal, Control dies. He confirms the codenames of all suspects to Smiley who has to play against Karla, his opposite in Moscow. Together they represented dedication and disloyalty at all levels.

Special Effects

The special atmosphere of the movie was supported by memorable images like a cigarette lighter, the use of glasses or changing points on the railway lines near Smiley’s HQ. Music was excellently chosen to accentuate the viewers’ impressions. A staging of a Christmas party was brilliant with drunken people singing The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World – the title song from one of spy flicks doing a pastiche of James Bond. The entrance of Santa Claus in the mask of Lenin to the sound of the Soviet Union’s anthem was also a spectacular and emblematic episode. In general, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy surprises viewers in a variety of ways.




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