Film Review: Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is a film that is currently receiving praise from almost all quarters.

I say ‘almost’ because good old DigitalSpy gave it a mere 3 stars. Yes, the same website that gave the utterly abysmal Bridesmaids a 5 star review only gives TTSS – a film which I’m sure everyone knew was going to be terrific – a merely average score.

The moral of this story is that DigitalSpy hires morons to do their reviews.

Anyway, onto the matter at hand.

What’s This Film About?

I’m sure most of you have heard of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy before, whether it’s John Le Carre’s novel or the 1970s TV series starring Sir Alec Guinness and a host of well known British Actors of the era, and therefore I don’t really need to critically analyse the plot.

But to give a brief outline…

Set in the 1970s during the Cold War, George Smiley – a British Intelligence Officer – comes out of retirement to try and uncover a Russian Double Agent (one of four men) working at the top of the Secret Service.


The only way that this film could possibly be bad was if it strayed wildly from the book/TV series. But it didn’t.

So let’s just establish now that the plot for this film is terrific. It’s engaging, makes sense, flows well and is very clever.

Therefore, when it comes to reviewing it, the onus is on two different issues…

1) Can You Truncate a Seven Hour Long TV Series Into a 2 Hour Film and Not Compromise It?

I would say the answer to this is yes.

I watched the TV series a few years ago and while it was enjoyable, it was slow moving – almost glacial in its pace. Now, that’s not a bad thing at all, but in 2011 I don’t think you can get away with that without boring a nation full of people with Attention Deficit Disorder.

The key is that while some of the characterisation is missed out, especially for the likes Toby Esterhase, Percy Alleline and Roy Bland, the plot doesn’t suffer. Indeed, by speeding it up it makes it more exciting.

On the other hand though, by missing out on some of that characterisation it does take away a little from the impact of finding out who exactly the mole in the Circus (the name for the upper echelons of the Intelligence Agency).

2) How Does the Acting Compare?

For anyone who knows anything about British TV in the 70s and 80s, the BBC Series of TTSS is a whose-who of good actors. Not as much as the peerless I, Claudius, but still a fine selection.

You’re talking about the likes of Alec Guinness, Bernard Hepton (I, Claudius, Secret Army), Ian Richardson (House of Cards), Hywell Bennett (Shelley, Eastenders), Michael Jayston (The Valeyard from Dr Who), George Sewell (among other things, The Detectives & Dr Who) and Patrick Stewart, so it’s obviously going to be high quality.

But the film also has a very strong cast as well, including Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth and…er….Roger Lloyd Pack, so in many ways it comes down to personal preference.

Well, I say that, but the exception would be the actors portraying Toby Esterhase. In the film it’s David Dencik, but he’s nowhere near as good as Bernard Hepton in the TV series.

That’s just one exception though.

With Gary Oldman, while he plays the part of Smiley brilliantly, you do have to wonder whether or not he’s taking the character from the book (which I haven’t read) or if he’s just trying to copy Guinness. Either way, it’s a very similar, if not copy-cat performance.

Random Observations

  • The much talked about ‘Gay Agenda’ in modern scriptwriting shows up here. For reasons completely unknown, the character of Peter Guillam – who was written as a bit of a ladies man and ended up married with children in one of Le Carre’s later books – is written as a homosexual in this film.
  • Well, I say ‘written’, but his homosexuality has nothing to do with his character at all. Rather, what happens is that for no good reason there’s suddenly an incongruous scene in which he dumps his boyfriend, and then it’s not brought up again. We live in a society where it’s not the done thing to question such things without being branded ‘homophobic’, but I have to ask ‘What’s the point’? Either it’s been written to make him gay for the sake of it, or it’s trying to make a point about his character and completely misses the target.
  • Moving away from such ‘controversial’ issues, the film is shot to look as dreary as 1973 seemed. And the streets and sets were dressed to look very much like the era. It looked very good.
  • In an era where everything is stored in digital form, a Spy drama like this really couldn’t be done in this day and age.
  • Apparently people used to recreationally swim in public ponds. You couldn’t do that these days…Health & Safety.

Should You Go To Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?

Yes, it’s a very good film. It’s well written, the right length, a strong plot and solidly acted.

If you’re a DigitalSpy type character who thinks the pinnacle of writing is a film like Bridesmaids though, maybe avoid it eh? Might go over your head.


3 Responses to Film Review: Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy

  1. Philip says:

    The reason for the incongruous scene was because Smiley asks Guillam if he has any skeletons he needs to deal with. In 1973 being gay was not as “easy” as it is today and spies were regularly blackmailed
    However I have no answer as to why Guillam was portrayed as gay in the film – completely unnecessary change – but as a massive fan of the book and the TV series it still did nothing to decrease my enjoyment of a brilliant film

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