Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Stars: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik.

Novelist John Le Carre was previously an agent with Britain’s MI6, and he drew upon his experience to bring a touch of realism to his gritty spy novels. They were far removed from the world of Bond – no exotic locations, buxom women, lots of chases, action, and a megalomaniacal villain intent on conquering the world. Rather his spies are world weary, cynical bureaucrats toiling away in drab, smoke-filled offices and rarely seeing any action. This was a bleak world of cynical agents, meetings, and casual betrayals.

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold was a quintessential Le Carre spy story – bleak, downbeat and character driven. Written in 1974, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was a massive tome, about the search for a top level KGB mole in the British secret service that was originally presented as a 1979 six-part television miniseries. The writing team of Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O’Connor (The Debt, The Men Who Stare At Goats, etc) have stripped Le Carre’s massive tome back to its bare essentials. Unfortunately a lot of background information, vital details about some of the characters and some key plot points have been lost, which may lead to some confusion amongst audiences. However, their pared back script maintains Le Carre’s pervasive atmosphere of mistrust, corruption and cynical insecurity.

It is the early 70’s, at the height of the Cold War. British agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) is sent to Budapest to learn the identity of a top level Soviet spy. The mission goes horribly wrong, and Prideaux is captured and interrogated. Control (John Hurt) resigns as a result of the operation, and remains convinced that the traitor is in the top echelons of MI6.

There are four chief suspects – the urbane Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Sir Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). After C dies from a heart attack, retired spymaster George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is lured out of retirement and charged with poring through archives and old records of failed operations to try and uncover the traitor’s identity.

A solid ensemble cast of British thespians adds weight to the cast. Tom Hardy (Warrior, Bronson, etc) contributes his strong presence as rogue agent Ricki Tarr, who holds the key to exposing the mole. Benedict Cumberbatch (tv series Sherlock, etc) gives solid support as Smiley’s trusted assistant Peter Guillam, a naïve and rising young operative who does much of the leg work. Hurt contributes another strong but brief performance as C, the ill-fated head of the secret service who sets in motion the spy hunt.

In the 70s miniseries, Smiley was played by a perfectly cast Alec Guinness, who gave the character a sense of authority, and a more avuncular persona. Oldman gives his nondescript Smiley a more ruthless edge, and makes the inscrutable character his own with a largely internal performance. But he also imbues him with a sense of guilt and disillusionment.

Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In, etc) directs in suitably low key fashion and he captures the paranoid and bleak tone of Le Carre’s novel well. He uses silence well as a way of increasing the tension and hinting at Smiley’s complex thought processes. Alfredson also uses a series of flashback sequences to explore the mystery from different perspectives. The original cut ran for some three hours, which may have made some of the details a bit clearer and the complex plot easier to follow.

Technical details are superb, from Maria Djurkovic’s production design through to Jacqueline Durran’s costumes, which all recreate the era effectively and evocatively. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Let The Right One In, The Fighter, etc) has shot the film primarily in dull greys and washed out sepia-toned colours, which adds to the overall bleak and austere tone of the material.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a finely crafted and more realistic spy tale than the usual action-packed blockbuster from Hollywood and it will appeal to audiences who like their entertainment shaped with a strong streak of intelligence.




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