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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spion Kop

The new film adaptation of the seminal espionage novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré owes as much to its sterling British cast as it does to the erstwhile foreigner at the helm. Rarely does a film trust its audience as much as Tinker, Tailor and the decision to hand over the directing to Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In, 2009) has unleashed what one hopes is the first in a line of intelligent adaptations of le Carré.

George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is a retired cuckold thrust back into the grimy world of the secret service in order to track down a Soviet double-agent. Smiley is out to clear his own name in the eyes of his mentor, Control (John Hurt), who sets the benchmark for paranoia in “The Circus” of 1970′s MI6.

Secret service hoods Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) and the insipid Estherhase (David Denick) comprise a cabal that Smiley must crack in order to track down the Russian mole. Each actor would be comfortably capable of carrying his own 90-minute vehicle, but here, every line is spoken by someone at the top of their game.

In 2002, when we were treated to the first of a trilogy of Jason Bourne novels adapted for the silver screen, the watchword was realism. James Bond had been replaced by a more cerebral, realistic spy and the aesthetic was as gritty as Bond had been glamorous.

It is hardly surprising that The Bourne Identity, voted the second greatest spy novel of all time in Publisher’s Weekly, should have made such a compelling trilogy. It certainly started a trend away from the meretricious world of Sean Connery’s MI6 spook and paved the way for Daniel Craig’s more spartan incarnation. It is also telling that topping the list was The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, the prequel to Tinker, Tailor.

With Tinker, Tailor the trend to nullify the Semtex and amplify the drama has taken us well beyond the measured assassinations and explosions of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne masterpiece: now we are in a world of people and places. We are introduced to a Budapest frozen in time, minarets sizzling in the distance while godless agents fill the bazaars. Alfredson casts London in a starring role and his unobtrusive selection of 1973 signifiers deftly builds the heavy atmosphere of a world on the brink.

Peter Straughan and his late wife, Bridget O’Connor, cannot be commended enough for constructing a screenplay that refuses to yield to the excess of so many modern thrillers. There is nothing unnecessary here, and Alfredson uses these restrictions to scintillating effect. Smiley has no words for the duration of his retirement, instead there are glimpses of vanity and isolation played out through bus-shelter reflections and lukewarm cups of tea.

This Tinker, Tailor is a period piece, far removed from Alec Guinness’ Smiley of the BBC adaptation. That was a contemporary drama, this is the Cold War re-imagined and endowed with hindsight. It hints at smoking rooms and bacolite rather than action or gadgets, and one can’t help but feel transported into the surrounding darkness.

Keep an eye out for some excellent supporting roles from the legendary Kathy Burke and the magnificently versatile Stephen Graham.

This article was published in its original form on Geekoverture.com

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