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Customer Review

62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magical transformation, 14 Jan. 2006
This review is from: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy : Complete BBC Series [DVD] [1979] (DVD)
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]
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