Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Before I went to see the new film version of the Le Carré classic, I first sat down and watched – for something like the fifth time – the 1979 Alec Guinness version.
I’ve seen this at least five times over the years, and together with Smiley’s People, it makes Guinness the definitive George Smiley. There’s just nothing wrong the adaptions.
So I approached the new film version from director Tomas Alfredson with a little concern. That said, I’d also heard nothing but good things about the film – even though I tried to avoid all reviews in advance.
As a rule, there have been very few “remakes” of films that have added something to the original. Yet, that doesn’t mean that filmmakers shouldn’t be allowed to. How many versions of Dracula, Sherlock Holmes or even Hamlet have their been over the years?
So despite my love for the original, I was still eager to get to this as soon as I could. And I absolute adored Alfredson’s Let The Right One In.
And here’s the thing.
It’s also brilliant. In different ways to the TV series. But then that was a 7 x 50 minute series giving plenty of time for the novel to breath. Alfredson condenses his version into a running time of just over two hours, and yet he also allows plenty of time to breath – Gary Oldman’s Smiley doesn’t say a word for the first ten minutes or so. And he doesn’t say a great deal else during the running time of the film.
The casting is exceptional. We have a number of players all at the top of their game headed by Oldman. There are also Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciaron Hinds and David Dencik as the suspects, the wonderful John Hurt as “Control”, Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr, Mark Strong as the embittered Jim Prideaux and the superb Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam, Smiley’s right hand man. They’re all absolutely pitch perfect.
The direction is a delight with some very measured performances and lots of details that will undoubtedly mean I have to rewatch the film several times.
The music from Alberto Iglesias is absolutely spot on. He also recently composed the soundtrack to The Skin I Live In – being the longtime composer for Pedro Almodovar – and his music is even better this time around.
And finally the photography and production design is so spot on it’s scary. We really feel as though we’ve been transported back to the seventies with smokey yellowing rooms. The clothes feel right and aren’t just someone’s hackneyed idea of what the seventies were like (Life on Mars could be a little guilty of that). Essentially Britain was still coming out the sixties in 1973, so it’s not just all about long hair and flared trousers.
As I say, cutting the novel down to a manageable film-length, is not an easy task without ripping out the heart of the book, but screenplay writers Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan have done it perfectly.
And finally, I am going to have to watch it again so that I can spot Le Carré himself in a cameo in a scene that doesn’t appear in the novel – a Christmas party – but which feels absolutely right nonetheless.
A must-see film.
A couple of side issues:
1. I’m really not sure that film companies should be handing Facebook the rights for hosting their film’s website. This isn’t some two-bit affair – it’s a major film that will undoubtedly clear up during the awards season. So I really wouldn’t let somebody else host the film’s website. OK – there’s an official website too. But that’s not what I saw on the film poster.
2. I actually quite like the new Orange ad to persuade us to turn off our mobile phones. At first it came across as cheesy – and frankly awful – as those M&M sponsored “From The Red Carpet” ads. Seriously, what’s the point of them? Insightless brief interviews in 3 second clips. Anyway, in fact, these are quite clever ads and got plenty of the audience laughing. I still spotted at least two people checking their phones during the film though…