Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

It’s a funny thing, spying, isn’t it? We entrust our national security to those who, by their very nature, must be duplicitous and backstabbing. Yes, those people who keep our secrets are the very ones we want to keep them safe from. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy takes us deep into this murky world of Cold War espionage and the search for a double agent at the heart of MI6. But is it any good?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an adaption of John le Carre’s classic novel. A paranoid Control (John Hurt), the head of MI6, sends an agent to Hungary on a top-secret mission to discover the identity of a mole right in the heart of The Circus, the highest level of the secret service. So secret was this mission that Control and the agent, Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), were the only people to know about it. The Russians get wind of this agent snooping around Budapest, set him up, and gun him down.

The fallout from the unsanctioned mission results in Control and his right-hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), being pensioned off, leaving Control’s four suspects – Tinker Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Tailor Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Soldier Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), and Poorman Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) in charge of The Circus.

When rogue agent, Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), reveals Control’s theory about a mole, Smiley, aided by Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberpatch), is brought back to the fold to investigate The Circus and Operation Witchcraft, a double agent so high up in the Russian Echelons of power it seems too good to be true.

Tomas Alfredson, best know for his brilliant vampire tale Let The Right One In, directs with aplomb. His deliberately drab and dull palette perfectly suits the muddy world in which these spies work. Set in the seventies, hardly a thing feels out of place, though it’s weird to think that this film is now a period piece. How time flies… Alfredson also really knows how to crank the tension too, especially in a sequence where Benedict Cumberpatch’s Guillam has to smuggle records out of The Circus.

The cast is ace too. Tom Hardy’s rough and ready Ricki Tarr, all kissable lips and flecked with paranoia at the things he’s seen. Colin Firth’s charming but sleazy Haydon. Mark Strong’s wounded Prideaux, left out in the cold teaching school kids and brooding in a caravan. Kathy Burke’s brief appearance as Connie Sachs, a researcher let go not long after the Hungary incident for asking the wrong questions.

But it’s Gary Oldman as Smiley that is star of the show. Grey haired and hidden behind glasses, he barely speaks in the first half hour, yet we know what Smiley is thinking the way Oldma moves his glasses or simply how he stands. Where he really nails it is with an anecdote about Russian rival, Karla. He draws us in as any storyteller would and leaves us hanging on his every word. It’s mightily impressive. That said, I still can’t accept Oldman as being an old man (pun intended). Maybe it’s because in my mind he’ll always be Sid Vicious in Sid And Nancy, or crazy Stansfield in Leon. I don’t know.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a great piece of almost old-fashioned filmmaking. A top adaption removes the more convoluted elements of the story without stripping it completely. Turn the mobile phone off, close the laptop, and you should be able to follow the plot with relative ease. It’s a film that rewards that attention.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is available on Blu-Ray and DVD now.

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