It’s been many years since I read John le Carre’s master work Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the other novels that comprise his “Smiley Series”. In these novels, le Carre constructed a complex and realistic world centered on MI6, the British intelligence organization. Most of the novels in the series take place during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was the largest threat to Western civilization.
Of course it’s odd that it took nearly 40 years for this movie to be made. There was a British TV adaptation starring Alec Guinness as George Smiley, but that was many years ago. I was concerned that this story is dated and irrelevant to today’s world. And it is hard to understand how the Russians were so feared by those of us in the West.
Anyway, I found this film to be truly excellent. It was faithful to the book in most ways, of course simplifying and compressing much of the action. The casting is remarkable, and so many familiar actors actually become British spies. The story is intriguing and the viewer really needs to pay attention in order to follow the action.
The head of the MI 6 section known as “The Circus” is Control, played by John Hurt. Believing there is a mole highly placed in the circus, Control sets up an operation in Hungary. When things go very badly, Control and Smiley (Gary Oldman) are forced into retirement. Control dies shortly thereafter, and Smiley is approached by a highly placed government official. He is asked to conduct an independent investigation to discover the mole. With few resources beyond his own knowledge and reasoning, Smiley patiently reconstructs events of the past to deduce who the traitor is.
Although this film is a spy thriller and people do get killed, it is tame by today’s standards. It is really for the thinking film-goer, and anyone who hasn’t read the book will be trying to figure out who the the mole is. So, whether you’ve read the book or not, I recommend this film.