Ok this isn’t a book review but watching the new Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy adaptation gave me plenty to think about yesterday. The first thing to say is that I’m a huge fan of the book and an even greater admirer of the 1979 TV adaptation starring Alec Guiness. However, if I’m going to do the film any justice I think I’ll have to set aside any comparisons and discuss the film as it stands, given that adaptations rarely better their sources.
First the positives: Gary Oldman as George Smiley is excellent. He makes the part his own, relevant to both the period portrayed and to the 21st century viewer. I’m a huge fan of Oldman anyway, I had my doubts about his suitability as Smiley but I though his portrayal gave the essence of the character. There was some other good acting too, notably from Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr and Toby Jones as Percy Alleline. I also liked the pace of the film – thoughtful and reflective. Getting the essence of what is a complicated plot in 2 hours 7 minutes is no mean feat and the director essentially stripped the book down to its key narratives.
But some things did jar. For a start, the setting didn’t feel like 1970s London. I’m afraid that I have to admit that I remember the 1970s and the outside locations, office and hotel settings and even the hairstyles didn’t seem real. I know I am in the minority here – the film has been widely praised for its 70s feel but it felt at times like a film set and not real life. The drabness of the Cold War era seemed to be lacking.
Some of the characters were poorly developed, most notably the ‘inner circle’ where for example Ciaran Hinds is given no opportunity to show off his acting skills as the disillusioned working class spy, Roy Bland. There were also some hiccups in the narrative. I didn’t care enough who the circus mole was and when he is eventually revealed (no spoilers here) it is in a casual fashion with only a slight sense of the cataclysmic repercussions it will have on the espionage world.
There have been some rave reviews of this film and it is nice to be treated to an intelligent thoughtful thriller. I have a feeling that we are likely to see more of Oldman as Smiley which will be no bad thing. And, hopefully the film will introduce a new generation of readers to the spy novels of Le Carre – I notice that the book is ranking #2 in thrillers on Amazon at the moment. However, the film didn’t quite do it for me in portraying the claustrophobia and paranoia of 1970s espionage.