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4.7 out of 5 stars219
4.7 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 21 June 2006
Flawless. And I don't say that about many things. This is what the BBC used to do so well, and quality never dates. Smiley's People, and it's illustrious predecessor remain two of the all-time great dramas. They take an exclusive place amongst the best performed pieces I have ever seen. No, I won't review the story: I don't think that's possible in a few words. Suffice to say former head of the Circus (MI6) is brought out of retirement to clean up the mess caused by the murder of a former associate, and in so doing, is pitted once again against his opposite number in (we assume) the KGB.

The acting is a masterclass. Perfection. Not one jarring note, not one slightly questionable piece, even in the most minor roles. The late Sir Alec Guiness naturally ocupies the most attention, as is right and proper, but the supporting cast were outstanding as well. I hear complaints in some quarters that the role of George Smiley was 'too easy' for Sir Alec. If this is too easy, I'd love to know what difficult is supposed to be. The role is superb, but it required an unique talent to be convincing, and it is a tribute to Guiness's mesmerising ability that he made it seem so natural. Small wonder people thought he made it look easy: he did. That doesn't mean it was though.

The direction is also a statement work. Pacing is slow, as it should be to do this complex and convoluted story justice. If you're expecting something simple, with lots of fights, guns, chases and such like, or have a 2 minute attention-span, look somewhere else. You have to be patient. If you are, you will be slowing drawn in, and it will not let go. It is beautifully shot, beautifully lit, and the audio levels (always very tricky to get right) are spot on and unobtrusive: you just take them for granted.

The DVD presentation is excellent, though I wish the disks were easier to extract from the long central clip in the box -they bend worryingly, which I'm always uncomfortable with. Still, a little care should prevent problems, but I call upon manufacturers to please mend their ways in this respect. There are few extras -an interview with le Carre is about your lot. That doesn't bother me though -it's the program I wanted, not the extras.

The print transfer is excellent, with little grain, and few digital nasties. The audio has been equally well cleaned up, and is crystal clear.

If you like the sound of the above, or simply like good drama, or the best performances you are ever likely to see, buy without hesitation. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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on 19 July 2005
This has to be one of the most masterful pieces of TV drama ever created. Superbly shot, outstandingly scripted (no surprise as Le Carre himself worked on it), brilliantly paced but most of all oh-how-amazingly acted. Even the most minute, fleeting role is played with extraordinary panache - actors like Maureen Lipman, Patrick Stewart, Alan Rickman, Beryl Reid, Sian Phillips make brief but utterly luminous appearances. When this much care is taken over the small roles it is no wonder that the big parts, and the biggest part of all, Smiley himself are such towering performances. This has to be Alec Guiness's greatest performance and it says a lot about the dwindling power of TV as a medium that we have seldom seen is like since. This is a major cultural milestone and should not be missed by anyone.
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on 2 December 2000
This series, along with "Tinker, Tailor..." was, is, and will remain the defining work in the Cold War genre. Who better to have played Smiley than Sir Alec Guiness? Who better to have scripted this tour through the dismal, melancholy world of British Intelligence, and the silent fight they waged against the Soviet Union to no applause and less appreciation than David Cornwell? Stodgy and correct; quiet and demure, Guiness' Smiley defined the real-world application of high-stakes spy work as no 007 lark ever could. The screenplay, supporting cast, cinematography and score did what I wouldn't have believed possible: top "Tinker, Tailor."
The die was cast for me as a teenager reading "The Looking Glass War," and has been solidified with these books and the splendid television movies produced since. I watched as our PBS stations aired "Smiley's People" not long after "Tinker, Tailor," and once more in syndication on local channels. I have not seen it since, and that is a great shame. A former American Cold Warrior who saw my share of the clock's chime at midnight in desolate places while watching the Soviet Navy's every move, I ask again -- I implore the holders of the series' rights -- release this (and Tinker, Tailor) in the United States, please! So many here no longer understand or care to know what those years were like, and Smiley's People can in some small way enlighten while it entertains.
Rob Davies
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on 13 November 2006
The Cold War is over, and for those of us that lived through it, this story carries with it a sort of perverse nostalgia. Did the sun ever shine in those days? Even the Western cities of Paris, Bern/Thun and Hamburg seem to be imbued with that grey half light that we (Westerners) always imagined to form the backdrop for all those cities trapped behind the Iron Curtain. The creatures who inhabit this world are scarred with human frailty. Even Smiley has an "off button" for his human emotions when he smells his prey near at hand. It can never be equalled because the memories of those days are fading fast. Anyone who ever visited the divided Europe will testify that the continent is a differnt place now and it is Le Carre's understanding of what this unnatural atmosphere did to the human condition that provides the genius behind his work. I could not recommend it highly enough. It is a first rate history lesson on the effects of a largely forgotten war.


It would be an idea to read or watch "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" first. Although I feel "Smileys People" has more depth and is therefore more challenging and rewarding.
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on 1 March 2004
This is wonderful drama at its best. The brilliant novel by John Le Carre is beautifully and loyally scripted, and Alec Guinness - the only Smiley! - gives a supreme performance. The cast is is of a strength and quality that today's producers can only dream of, and, best of all, the 5-plus hours that BBC gave to this allowed the plot to breathe and grow, and with it the full tension to develop. Alec Guinness gives an Oscar-quality performance; his cameo scene with Beryl Reed as Connie Sachs remains one of television's finest moments. Sian Phillips is Ann; her role forever makes the transition seamless from 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'. Look for a small role from a younger Alan Rickman, Eileen Atkins (brilliant as the pawn in a game that is quickly out of her control), Bernard Hepton (wonderfully sleazy as Toby Esterhazy), Michael Byrne (the maverick civil servant for whom Smiley is forever the hero), Bill Paterson (brilliant acting - you just hate him), and Maureen Lipman (sharp, bright, vintage performance). The score is sensitive, under-stated, and proves that an intelligent public (the majority) don't need loud music to mask drama. To think that, in this one year, television spawned this and 'Brideshead Revisited'. A golden era indeed. Watch, and watch again.
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on 24 November 2006
This is an object lesson in how to present a complicated story on TV. It is wonderful from start to finish. Every actor seems to be right for their character and the portrayal of George Smiley in all his moods and feelings is superb. The storyline follows the book closely. This is the kind of thing BBC did to perfection without unnecessary gimmicks. Every time I watch this I'm absorbed by the story, even though, of course, I know the ending.
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on 15 September 2007
Six episodes on 2 dvd's plus interviews with le Carré himself and John Irvin.
This adaptation of Smiley's People is as faultless as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. No cut corners and absolutely true to the book. Brilliant acting throughout - I was surprised to see one reviewer below saying Barry Foster was "appalling" as Saul Enderby. Enderby is supposed to be appalling. Foster plays him superbly in my opinion.
The interview with John Irvin reveals that Alec Guinness thought Arthur Lowe more suitable for the part of Smiley. No disrespect to Arthur Lowe, but Guinness' portrayal of Smiley is perhaps one of the greatest performances in televisual drama.
They shot TTSS and SP on film, and the quality of the picture is excellent. The directing is first class, as is the cinematography.
What a shame they never made The Honourable Schoolboy - though making that would have been the entire BBC budget for a year I imagine.
I would recommend anyone to buy these two BBC gems as soon as possible, especially at the prices they're now going for on Amazon.
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on 2 December 2009
I loved Smiley's People. It was a superb follow up to Tinker Tailor, though less so to the Honourable Schoolboy which linked the two in the Karla Trilogy.

I love the narrative in this series. If I cannot sleep at night I often turn in the book to scenes such as Grigoriev's interrogation, or Smiley's visit to Connie (Beryl Reid - fantastic). I was disappointed with the omission of Michael Jayston - does anyone know why that was? - The relationship between Guillam and Smiley was just not the same as TTSS.

Otherwise, perfectly paced, moving effortlessly around Europe, and always the shadow of the mole (I won't name them so as not to spoil it for anyone) and Anne. If she was an agent, Smiley would have run her rather well. I agree with Lacon.

Smiley is so fragile ....
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on 1 March 2001
Far from the benign old buffer portrayed in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, here we see George Smiley as written by John Le Carre. Both sides of Smiley are seen at their best in the scene with Connie Sachs and 'Hils'.
Some of the more subtle undercurrents in the piece are a joy to behold such as the transformation of Toby Esterhase from seamy dealer in dubious pieces of art to the man revived in the scenes with 'Herr Glaser'.
An absolute masterpiece which shows the BBC at the height of its powers before Checkland et al got their hands on it and fed us a seemingly constant diet of period costume dramas.
Drama which can be viewed again and again with each viewing revealing more of the subtleties for which Le Carre is rightly famous.
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I watched this when first broadcast in 1982 and was utterly hooked - it was one of those programmes that was compulsory viewing and much discussed at work the following day. (although I remember Clive James, in his TV reviewer guise at the time, was a bit rude about the fact that it could make a heroine out of Connie, queen of the files.... well, you can't please everybody).

Anyway, the years went by, and then a couple of years ago I accidentally stumbled across this again as it was being repeated on BBC4 or some such ghetto channel. Unfortunately I'd missed the first couple of episodes (they were broadcasting it two episodes at a time) but I got hooked once more and made suitable arrangements to ensure that I caught the rest of the series - my family thought I was mad, but what the hell.

Lots of reviewers here have said that this is how BBC drama used to be, but I disagree to some extent - this is exemplary programme making by any standards. I've watched some other programmes that I thought were compelling on first viewing (I, Claudius, for example) and their age shows - still probably better than most of the rubbish spread thinly across all the channels today, but nowhere near as good as this. Don't go looking for high speed car chases, fisticuffs, or the like (although there are occasional flashes of very nasty stuff - for example when Smiley goes on the boat in Germany, or what happens to the Russian emigre's dog) - this is a slow burning, highly atmospheric story that gradually notches up the intrigue and tension, draws you in and eventually resolves with a satisfactory conclusion yet leaves enough questions dangling to wonder what happened next, and people's motives for their decisions and actions.

A terrific series, in short.
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