Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

It may be set within the streets of London and corridors of Whitehall rather than the snowy suburbs of of Sweden but there is something decidedly chilly about Tomas Alfredson's follow-up to Let The Right One In. The cool colours and muted emotions of this John Le Carré adaptation fit the 1973 Cold War backdrop perfectly and are appropriate for the murky world of moralistic shades of grey. This isn't the breed of spying popularised by James Bond, full of glamour and girls, this is the brass tacks end of the market, where commitment to country comes with a sheaf of paper and a public school briefcase.

Gary Oldman stars in the central role of George Smiley a middle-aged spy, who has lived and breathed his job for decades. The right-hand man of top dog Control (John Hurt), he is one of a small cabal of those in the know right at the top of the secret service - referred to by its employees as the Circus. The problem is that despite all the carefully orchestrated acrobatics to keep the British on top in the power struggle with Russia, a mole in the upper echelons is making a clown of them all.

Copy picture

After Control makes the maverick decision to send his man Jim (Mark Strong) on an off-the-map trip to Hungary in an attempt to find out who the double-agent is, things turn nasty - with a shoot-out sparking disaster and prompting Control's dismissal along with Smiley. Despite this, anxiety begins to spread in the corridors of power and Smiley (codenamed "Beggarman") finds himself called upon to work out which of the top dogs - Percy "Tinker" Alleline (Toby Jones), Bill "Tailor" Haydon (Colin Firth), Roy "Soldier" Bland (Ciaran Hinds) or Toby "Poor Man" Esterhase (David Denick) - is passing secrets on to a shadowy figure at the top of the Russian secret service known only as Karla.

With help from the more lowly but trusted Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) and policeman Mendel (Roger Lloyd-Pack) he begins to hunt his man, when the sudden arrival of "off the grid" hitman Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) provides him with an opportunity.

Oldman is perfect as the inscrutable Smiley, striving for empiricism in his approach and yet driven by his own emotions even when he - and we - don't realise it. Alfredson knows this and uses him perfectly, choosing just the right moment to make his face fill the screen so as to strike the greatest resonance with the viewer. But this is not a film that features just one single great performance - although it certainly rests on one. Oldman is supported by enough British acting talent to fill a three-ring circus, with everyone leaving a mark even in the smallest of roles.

The novel has been hard-boiled down to its core, meaning that some acrobatics on the part of the viewer are required to keep up with the initial goings on in the Circus. The characters, however, remain distinct and are cleverly set-up by the use of flashbacks to a Christmas party, which helps to show the dynamic between them and immerse us in the time period and its attendant politics.

Alfredson takes a deadly serious approach to the material, creating dread from something as simple as the glance of a woman from an upstairs window or a pair of stocking feet on floorboards. He also underplays climactic moments in a way that lends the implications of them rather than the events themselves extra weight.

Smiley wears his trademark bifocals throughout - with Alfredson frequently letting us catch a half-glimpse through the lens - and that sense of alternating perspective is also apparent in the plot. Friend may be foe, knowns become unknowns, nothing is certain. Although the men are all about protocol, for example, feelings are key to the film. They may not be floating about on the surface but beneath the stiffness of the upper lips there is a turbulent undercurrent of emotions, both of the romantic sort and of the curious bond that can exist between enemies working on flipsides of the same coin.

Alfredson's film is ultimately all about secrets, including those that people keep from themselves.

Reviewed on: 09 Sep 2011
Share this with others on...
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy packshot
A spy has to root out a mole at the top of the civil service.
Amazon link

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Writer: John le Carré, Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan

Starring: Gary Oldman Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciarán Hinds, David Dencik, Philip Martin Brown, Kathy Burke, Laura Carmichael, Oleg Dzhabrailov, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, Stephen Graham

Year: 2011

Runtime: 127 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

Festivals:


Search database:


If you like this, try:

Farewell
The Ipcress File