88 of 90 people found the following review helpful
on 20 August 2005
The cold war is in full swing. British agents are at risk. There is a mole at work within the highest levels of the secret service. Smiley, who had been unfairly ejected from the service - forced into early retirement after voicing legitimate suspicions - is brought back to investigate. He must tread carefully. The double agent could be any one of his former colleagues. Information is power and should not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands.
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.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
If it is possible to have something flawless in this life, then this is it. I've no problem with Flemming's Bond (novels) but have always treated the screen versions with amusement -with the possible exception of the two Timothy Dalton did -he was easily the closest to Flemming's creation.
But this is a world away; and rather more realistic than I suspect anything has ever got before or since. I won't spoil the convoluted plot -just watch it, but beware -miss a word and you've had it. The acting is faultless, the quality of the cast beyond measure. It's worth every penny.
On two DVD's it's a riot. Picture quality is as good as you have any right to expect, and I'm delighted the BBC have resisted what may well have been the strong temptation to 'stereoise' the mono soundtrack (shudder). Thank goodness they haven't, even if on the DVD the level is slightly low. Enjoy.
58 of 60 people found the following review helpful
Will the endless debates over the transformation of a book into a film ever be resolved? More than one TV miniseries has shown how proper casting and directing can produce some outstanding successful conversions. Even so, few approach the excellent production of John Irvin's rendition of John Le Carre's famous spy thriller. With superb casting and close following of the original story, Irvin has produced an almost flawless conversion of a narrative into a visual presentation.
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]
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 16 May 2002
Why isn't this available in the US, and why hasn't it been shown more? I watched it when it first aired years ago in a series called "Great Performances" (no, not Masterpiece Theater, though it is easily the greatest espionage film of all time) and was greatly moved by it.
Smiley, Percy Aleline, Roy, Ricky Tarr and of course, the great Ian Bannen as Jim Prideux are all characters that were forever etched into my memory. This film is the polar opposite of the typical "spy" movie, where girls, gore and gadgets take the place of story, atmosphere, and character development.
I won't bother attempting to recap the story. Just see it, without fail. Immerse yourself in the shadowy world of George Smiley, where you won't find many exciting car chases or shootouts, or dashing heroes or horrible villains. This movie will make you think.
This is coming from someone who has seen many, many great films over the years.
45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on 4 May 2004
This is the third time I have watched the series through and even though I know the plot and have read the book, I still get a lot of pleasure from it.
The story is strong - totally believable as you would expect from, as the accompanying documentary makes clear, the pen of a real spy. For those who don't know it it is based on the real story of Kim Philby, a mole who penetrated deep into MI5.
The acting is stunning! Alec Guinness, as George Smiley, shines - a subtle combination of school boy benevolence and executioner's hardness. But the number of cameo appearances by top quality British actors is mind blowing.
Technically the production is as good as the acting - an atmosphere of built up pressure and intense guilt is established almost from the first frame: Great Camerawork and Great Music.
Well worth the money.
98 of 103 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2003
Another review is almost superfluous - existing comments appear to confirm without exception that many people agree with me: this is probably the finest piece of television ever made, and possibly the finest adaption on screen of a book, ever. I would simply like to pick out the sound recording for praise (has the part that street noise plays in real life atmosphere ever been so perfectly exploited?) and applaud the supporting cast for standing up, every one of them, to Alec Guinness when he was on such millenial form.
The contrast between formidable and vulnerable is the most believable thing I have ever seen an actor achieve. His most astonishing feat is that, in the very last shot of the entire series, his expression sums up the conflicting characteristics of Smiley, the whole complex and subtle delineation of Le Carre's novel, within a few seconds. This is the DVD I will keep, when Sue Lawley forces me to discard the other nine - should Desert Island Disks ever catch up with the digital multimedia age!
98 of 103 people found the following review helpful
This is a truly great drama with some superb understated performances from the whole cast. The original photography was dark and atmospheric and added well to the low key feel of the production. What a shame then, I presume in an effort to cram the entire series onto just two DVD disks, that the image quality presented here is so poor. The picture is blocky and with visible artifacts, blacks are grey and murky and there are tonal shifts in areas of a single colour. Don't even attempt to zoom the picture.
But none of that truly matters as the vewer soon forgets it and becomes immersed in the plot and the acting skills on view. I for one, however, would have been prepared to pay bit more for a three disk set with a higher image quality
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 11 August 2000
I returned to this on video, (having seen the original screenings on the BBC), after the death of Sir Alec Guinness. I had forgotten just how good this film is. I watched it in one sitting and it is simply brilliant. The whole cast capture the mood of Le Carre's fiction superbly and as an example of Sir Alec Guinness' acting skills, this must rate as the best. Immerse yourself in this video, you will not be dissapointed.
56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on 8 September 2005
I watched this series first time around many, many years ago as it was serialised on the BBC and to say it was riveting does it no justice at all.
James Bond, eat your heart out - welcome to the real world. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy truly shows the BBC at it's best. I would suggest this drama is nigh impossible to surpass and even the acclaimed sequel, Smiley's People, could not better that. On a par, yes, and equally gripping, but no better.
For those who have never seen the late, great Sir Alec Guiness except in Star Wars, then, this is as good an opportunity there is to see a master at work - the role of George Smiley was surely custom made for him.
Read the synopsis, believe it, then buy it - you will not regret watching this, that's for sure.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 20 December 2007
With forty or so 5 star reviews, I don't need to tell you how good this series is in every way.
However, I would add here for future customers a warning. That is: if you intend to watch/read other Le Carre works after this then DO NOT WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY! There are spoilers in it of Smiley's People, The Constant Gardener and no doubt some others I did not pick up on. I could not believe that it showed the final scene of Smiley's People whilst a newly-purchased copy of the whole series sat unwatched next to my TV set!