This iteration of John Le Carré’s 1974 Cold War spy novel ‘Tinker Tailor Solider Spy’ has the twin shadows of the book and TV series hanging over it. This may sound like a bad thing but I can assure you, it's not.
I, personally have never afforded myself the privilege of reading the tome - but was 'forced' to sit through the TV series as a child as my parents watched it. I may have fawned indifference (as was fashionable in the punk era, for all things parental), but, if I'm completely honest, I avidly awaited the next episode. Just disguised my zeal with all the skill afforeded by Mssr Smiley and his ilk.
George Smiley .. as any damn fool should realise .. is the main protagonist in this cinematic adventure .. now played by Gary Oldman, lately much-missed by serious cinema – a British spy so colourless and dissimilar to James Bond that he would fit more comfortably in the tea rooms of a provincial railway station than on a tropical beach or in a sports vehicle, firing ordnance most unpleasant.
The tale is more or less as Le Carré delivered as same, give or take the odd piece of judicious tinkering to fit in with the contemporary politic – Hong Kong becomes Istanbul, for one, and Czechoslovakia is now Hungary. But the gist is still the same.
A well-connected civil servant, hushed, circumspect and clandestine Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney), recruits Smiley and an assistant, the younger spy Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch, erstwhile known as 'Watson' to Smiley’s 'Sherlock'), to decode which of his ex-colleagues is a disaterously suceesful mole, passing secrets to the Russians. Others are starting to believe what Smiley’s old boss Control (John Hurt) had long suspected before his ousting from the service following a bungled operation by taciturn, hard-as-nails spy Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) in Budapest: "there’s a ‘rotten apple’ at the top of the service."
Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (‘Let the Right One In’ .. a cinamatic experience I CANNOT recommend highly enough!!) blows a fresh air of continental style into Le Carré’s story without harming the 1970s British period feel of his source material. There’s a touch of ‘The Ipcress File’ to his ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ in the playing and, trust me, in that there is no bad thing.
Oldman’s Smiley – more haggard, sinister and silent than the assignment afforded by Guinness but with enough of a hint of the great man’s gravitas, *more* than pulls the task off with enough momentum to match the great mans initial performance .. I won't say he surpasses it, because I would be lying, in my humble opinion .. Guinness was insurpassable and insurmountable as an object to be circumvented in his portrayal of Smiley. A hard act to equal, let alone outdo.
But still .. this is a world of dusty files, clapped-out caravans and remote prep schools .. at times you need your wits about you to keep up with a tangled, interleaved web of a plot, and prior knowledge of the book or TV series certainly smooths the ride.
Not "entirely" necessary, but definitely recommended, to extract the most enjoyment from what's on offer .. as is the case with the majority of ports from the written to the celluloid .. in my opinion anyway.
Naturally, some episodes (instances) from the book and TV series don’t make it into the film, but it’s remarkable how much remains, often secured by a sly glance here or quick image there, which in itself adds to the enjoyment of the viewing experience.
This spy story, as it was always intended to be, is all about the journey – the process – and the backwaters and b-roads of the route, not the grand finale. This film’s superb cast, script and direction threaten to make that journey equally as thrilling as Le Carré’s book.
And that's something I never thought I'd say of a remake of something so complicated, convoluted and involved.
Marks out of ten?
I like him ... He says "Okie Dokie!"