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Drama as it should be
on 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.