FILM REVIEW: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The new adaption of the famous spy novel comes to the big screen but is it Bourne or Miss Marple?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciarán Hinds

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Screenplay: Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan


Based on the 1974 book by John le Carre, this is the film adaptation of the first book in a 3 part series. Having been adapted twice before. Once as a highly successful BBC series with a career defining performance by Sir Alex Guinness and once as a BBC Radio 4 dramatisation. So how does this new cinematic version stand up?

Set in England during the height of the cold war, the film starts off with a agent of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) being shot down while trying to uncover information on a Russian mole in the Circus, the highest section of the SIS. The far reaching consequences of this forces Control, the head of SIS to resign along with his right hand man George Smiley (Gary Oldman). This is where the story starts to develop as Smiley is brought back to uncover who this mole is and also to establish Smiley’s Russian counterpart Karla. Through out the story Smiley uncovers various clues as to the identity of the mole which leads to the climax of the film.

The first thing you notice about this film is the cast list which is just a pleasure to watch on the screen. Taking the lead here is Gary Oldman as Smiley in a powerful taciturn performance that is so subtle it quietly takes over the whole movie. There is a lot of talk about Oldman being nominated for the Oscar and I can see why. He seems to have completely immersed himself in this character in a way that could be his best performance to date.

John Hurt delivers enough gravitas for his performance as Control to believe this man has been doing this his whole life and trusts no-one. Filling out the rest of the cast are Colin Firth and Toby Jones as part of the Circus with fine performances from both and also Tom Hardy as a field agent. Working with Smiley in his team are Benedict Cumberbatch and Roger Lloyd Pack. Cumberbatch does well to play a low key yet determined officer as the SIS. Filling out the cast is also a lovely performance by the ever excellent Mark Strong.

The 70’s setting is brought to life by the methodical direction of Swedish director Tomas Alfredson. While I recognise what he is trying to do with this film at times the pacing seems to be just a bit too slow as if it was trying to fill out scenes with quiet thoughtful moments. For fans of a slight faster pace of film you should be warned that this is a slow building film that never hits a crescendo but rather reaches a finale that makes a gentle sigh with a feeling of completion. I also feel that for people who have never read the book, we are left to try and understand certain scenes that have no explanation like Smiley and his morning swim in a London lake. Is this when he does his thinking, who knows but I would like to have seen something more here.

The film is also given atmosphere by the restrained music of Alberto Iglesias who previously worked on The Constant Gardner and also the Kite Runner. Here he uses the music to slowly draw you in to each scene but never allowing the music to take over the visuals.

So who is this film for, well not fans of Bourne but rather it is aimed at fans of good casting and good dialogue even though Oldman probably says about 100 words in the entire film. I think you would need to have read the book first or you might be a little lost at some places. This really is a fine film but I find that at times I was waiting a bit too long for someone to move or talk and also the climax was not all that climatic. It also seemed like it was trying to be like a BBC 70’s mini series a bit too hard. I think less time waiting for people to talk and more time expanding the plot would have worked for me.

However a fine performance by a superb cast that I am sure will be listed in the various award ceremonies coming our way.

GS Rating 4/5

GS Reporter: Montoya

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