Le Carré's style is the antithesis of his contemporary Ian Fleming's--far from the glamorous lifestyle of Bond, with his fast cars and faster women, these agents ride around in Skodas, and Beryl Reid is the closest thing to a femme fatale, save for Smiley's elusive wife, Anne. An extraordinary cast (including Ian Bannen, Hywel Bennett and Ian Richardson), gritty realism and close attention to detail make Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy an outstanding piece of television drama. --Nicola Perry
You know great drama when you see it. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is easily one of the best. I watched it for the first time on DVD recently and found the story compelling, the acting flawless and the quality of the cinematograph superb (although the picture quality on the DVD could have been better). I remember people talking about it when it was shown on television. There was a lot of criticism of its incomprehensibility, the complexity of the plot and difficulty in keeping track of the characters. Now that I have actually watched the series for myself, all these years later, it just shows how a person should make their own judgement and not accept everything the critics have to say. It was easy to follow and understand the plot, but perhaps the ease of watching the episodes over the short period of a couple of days so that the story is fresh in the mind from one episode to the next gives the DVD watcher an advantage over the people who had to wait a week between episodes.
In addition to the drama, there is also a documentary entitled 'The Secret Centre', revealing fascinating details of John Le Carre's life: when, where, why and how his ideas and attitudes were formed, his life as a spy, how he became an author and so on. I found this documentary so riveting that I watched it twice.
Irvin's success might have rested on his capture of Alec Guiness to play George Smiley. Irvin, however, collected a stunning array of talent to portray one of the world's great spy stories. If you've read the book, you will see Le Carre's characters come to life with rarely seen precision. Guiness, of course, is an incomparable George Smiley. Reserved, unquenchable, distanced from both the ones he loves and despises, he carries an intense story with practiced ease. His task seems insurmountable - how to find a long-established “mole” within "The Circus". This agency, run by a driven man close to his dotage, has been penetrated by a Soviet agent right at the top of the hierarchy. "There are three of them, plus Alleline" - "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier" with one the traitor that must be unearthed.
Irvin is able to keep the suspense at its height as George, the one man deemed trustworthy to "Go backwards, George? Go forwards?" in the words of Foreign Office functionary Oliver Lacon [Anthony Bate] who brings Smiley filched records each night to peruse. Tucked away in a seedy hotel used as his headquarters, Smiley must sift through skimpy evidence to pinpoint the traitor. Is it Toby Esterhazy [Bernard Hepton] the Hungarian émigré now more British than Control himself? Roy Bland? Or the effete and pompous Bill Haydon, who has designs on George's distant wife Ann? None have real apparent motives beyond ambition for the top. Irvin keeps us in the same level of suspense Le Carre achieved with the novel. Guiness carries the story through with aplomb, Irvin's direction and camera work adding to the story's intensity.
There are few flaws in this film. Some of them are even invisible. An interview with Le Carre himself reveals that the medieval visual wonders of Prague are actually of a Scottish city! A character that opens the story is returned in a string of vignettes. You wonder what brings a crippled agent back to centre stage. It is Irvin's only failure that he omits the scenes from the book imparting Jim Prideaux's [Ian Bannen] intense British patriotism. The omission weakens the series' conclusion, making it less ambivalent than the original novel. That aspect, however, will be missed only by those who know the book. Even someone who's never read the book will find this series captivating. It's something to be watched again and again. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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