Thoughts on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Something I should never do is see a movie while rereading it. All of the additions are fresh, the omissions glaring, and the result is sometimes less than satisfactory. As in the case, I am sad to say, with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The movie is a good one, don’t get me wrong. It is entertaining, tense, and often uncomfortable. When it ends, you’re left in a sort of silence, unable to speak, to explain what you saw (a different sort of silence from this weekend’s other movie, Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In). I enjoyed watching it, seeing how the film would handle certain scenes and situations. I really liked how Ann Smiley is a shadow, a hand, a dress, a blurred body, a presence, just as Karla is.

Because of film’s shorter run time than TV (or indeed, a book), character development is sacrificed for tension. We never find out what the motivations for the suspects are, we never know of their more shining moments and their faults. The mole gets more screentime than the rest of the suspects (with the exception of George Smiley). Relationships are shortchanged, neglected, largely forgotten. Characters are omitted entirely, the politics of the Circus around Control’s death pushed aside. There is no sense of truly bad blood, of the rift, of the betrayal.

In thinking about the movie, there are more things that I dislike about it than I like. In terms of casting, Gary Oldman was very good as Smiley, as was Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr, but it felt like the rest of the cast never was quite enough. Benedict Cumberbatch, while a good Peter Guillam, wasn’t tough enough. Toby Jones wasn’t pompous enough as Percy Alleline. Colin Firth, whom I was incredibly excited to see cast as Bill Haydon, fell a little flat.

I also am a bit wary of their moving the Prideaux storyline from Prague to Budapest, and the Ricki Tarr-Irina tale from Hong Kong to Istanbul.

I’ve also read that, rather than filming the Quest for Karla series as a trilogy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People may be combined into one movie. I guess The Honourable Schoolboy will have to wait to be its own movie.

Most amusing part? One of the production companies (I’m assuming John le Carre’s) is Karla Films.

Final verdict? Three of Five Stars.

Edit 21 September: It isn’t Prague that Jim Prideaux visits in the book. It’s Brno.

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

  1. I’m not a big fan of spy films but I thought the cast looked good for this and the atmosphere looks to be very suspenseful so I’m looking forward to seeing it. I may well read the books too… would you recommend them?

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    1. I really really enjoy Le Carre’s books. I’ve read four of them–The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People. They’re quite depressing, but they’re suspenseful and have great characters.

      The cast is good, and its an enjoyable watch (I can’t really judge the suspense, knowing how it will end and rereading it so close to the watching). Let me know what you think about it!

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  2. Hi Beth, nice write up. I totally understand how you feel. I often feel the same way with Jane Eyre and Jane Austen movies, but I haven’t read Le Carre’s novel so I probably will judge the film on its own. The cast looks absolutely brilliant and the trailer is quite intriguing, so I’m jealous that you’ve seen this already!! 🙂

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    1. I’m jealous that you’ll be seeing it without having read the book. I think some of the suspense and not knowing who the mole is would improve the film, and knowing the end (indeed, of the whole trilogy) made the film lose some of its potential.

      Do read the book after seeing the movie, it’s a fabulous read, suspenseful, heartwrenching, great characters.

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      1. Oh yeah, I’ll probably read the book afterwards. Funny, I tend to do that with films. I read Jane Eyre (skipping some chapters though), Gone with the Wind and some Jane Austen stuff after seeing the movie. It kind of make me understand the characters better, but generally the book is always superior to the film adaptation.

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  3. Let me know what you think of it!

    You’re better than I. I’ve never read Jane Eyre (nor have seen the movie), but I’m notorious for not reading Jane Austen books.

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