Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Or Tim Brooke Taylor Soldier Spy as it is to people who can remember the time when the 1979 BBC serialisation seemed to grip the nation and its media like a mixture of The Wire and Downton Abbey.

The combination of John le Carre's cold war novel and Alec Guinness's portrayal of master spy catcher George Smiley represent a forbid-ding slab of quality to take on, but this nimble and engrossing adaptation is probably better than you could have hoped for.

The pace of the TV version was almost exaggeratedly ponderous and it sprawled out over seven episodes. As the semi retired Smiley carries out his investigation into which of the four top men in British Intelligence is a double agent working for Russia, it could spend a quarter of an episode on a single conversation.

The film has much less time but never feels rushed or that it's just giving you the bare bones. The initial script was by Peter Morgan but the final draft is by Peter Straughan and Bridget O'Connor (who died before it was made).

It's good at judging when to take its time and when to crack on a bit. It's faithful but injects a few flourishes of its own; it's surprisingly funny too.

In his previous success Let The Right One In, Swedish director Alfredson displayed a gift for Cold War gloom which he builds on here. His mid-1970s London is buried beneath the kind of murky gloom you'd normally expect to see in representations of the Soviet side.

This is a vision of the Cold War where the Iron Curtain casts a grey shadow over either side.

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And what of Gary Oldman's Smiley? Initially he does seem to be working inside a cast of Guinness's Smiley. But halfway through he emerges as a separate creation in the scene where he recounts meeting his KGB opposite Karla.

A talky period piece with a fantastic cast based on a prestigious book, this isn't perhaps straying too far from the British movie blueprint and its appeal is perversely nostalgic.

They were absurd, frightful times but at least the limits and rules of the absurdity were understood and it lent itself to dense thoughtful drama.


Director: Tomas Alfredson

Starring: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds and John Hurt.

Length: 127 mins