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.