On “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Let’s face it: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy presents a major test of vigilance and intellect.  It’s not one you can nap in.  There appears to be no footage that doesn’t contain some vital clue.  At least I for one found myself frequently asking “What did I miss?”  This was one I promised Joan  I wouldn’t see without her, but shortly before I left for the city I was told it was a puzzler, and that I would undoubtedly need to see it twice.  So I decided to get a head start.

I remember the 1974 novel, a whopping good read despite my not having the vaguest idea of how all the various deductions were being reached.  But then I tend to read when I’m falling asleep at night.   With the film, I’m still not too sure, other than the basics:  A mole in the British Secret Service must be rooted out.   I was nonetheless riveted by the suspense and the guessing.

Tinker… was also made into a terrific TV series in 1979 with Alec Guiness, as good as it gets.   But you just can’t keep a good story down, and this is a terrific movie.  Gary Oldman is equally as good as it gets as Smiley.  It’s always clear that behind his enigmatic stone face there is a whirlwind of  information-processing going on.  And he’s surrounded by a brilliant cast.  The film is full of terrific photography, fine detail, and some cryptic chronology that plays like a maze, as puzzling as the spy mystery itself.  It’s all very impressive and fun to try sorting through, but it’s a challenge.  I will indeed need a second viewing, and Joan, to help me figure it all out.

I suppose not quite getting the clues is half the fun of it all.  LeCarre was at one time a spy himself. The man knows whereof he speaks, and I imagine the spy business doesn’t always have neat resolutions and explanations.

I can’t say a thing about the plot without giving away what little I did figure out.  But shortly before the final credits began to roll, I do remember saying to myself “Oh no.  Don’t do this to me now.  Don’t you dare end this right now.”  I need …!  But then of course, they did!   After all, the book was the first in a trilogy of novels about the duel between British super-spy George Smiley and Karla, his Russian counterpart.  I hoped the same team would stay together for two more Smiley films.  I thought maybe filming the full trilogy could be the reason LeCarre, who is now 80 and a producer of this film, wanted to see Tinker remade.  But apparently, although the third of the trilogy, Smiley’s People, may be in the works, the second, The Honorable Schoolboy, is not to be.  The TV series didn’t include it either.  Apparently it’s too talky, so they say.  Maybe that’s why I’ve never read it.

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3 Responses to On “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

  1. Yes, Tinker, Tailor was a good movie. I actually found the plot easier to follow than in the original television series (details of which I had forgotten), probably in part because the limited time meant that the screenwriter had to stick to essentials. Yes, we in the audience must be vigilant and observant, just as Smiley is. Perhaps watching a carefully constructed film corresponds in many ways to spycraft, sussing out revelatory but easily unnoticed details. The talky parts of John LeCarre always struck me as the best parts, by the way. Now, go make amends with Joan by taking her to Himalayan Fusion or Tapas.

  2. patti stark says:

    I have it on my Netflix list – but oh my goodness, I hope I can “get it” – mind if I sit in with you and Joan sometime? Patti

    • William Rough says:

      Hi Patti — So good to hear from you. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble “getting it.” I don’t think i was being entirely alert. Am looking forward to taking Joan, and you’re always welcome to “sit in.” Bill

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