Sunday, January 15, 2012

Review of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is based on the true story of a mole buried deep inside the British Intelligence Services in the 1950s. In the film, the story is moved forward to the 1960s. In the purge following the capture of a British agent in Budapest and the subsequent debacle, Intelligence Officer George Smiley is sent packing from the Circus, the headquarters in London for British spies. But when evidence surfaces proving the existence of a mole, Smiley (Gary Oldham) is asked to investigate and ferret out the spy in their midst. Possible suspects include Bill Hayden (Colin Firth) and Roy Bland (Ciarnan Hinds).

The story’s setting is the 1960s in an unscrubbed London: soot-stained buildings, dirty windows, and gloomy skies set the stage. It is a time of bad tailoring, bell bottoms, dress patterns you should only see on upholstered furniture, and bad haircuts. Colin Firth is either wearing a hair extension or he has the biggest head in England. Benedict Cumberbatch (George Smiley’s right-hand man, Peter Guilliam) gives us an idea of what Justin Bieber will look like when he grows up. As for my daughter’s crush, Tom Hardy, he looks like a poster boy for an STD-prevention campaign.

The rhythm is set with the opening credits: people walking, people looking out of windows, people riding in cars, even people using a Scotch tape dispenser. This is the pace of a John Le Carre novel, but it just doesn’t work in a feature film that needs to explain a lot in very little time.

The novel is complicated. Unlike the six-part 1979 Masterpiece Theatre series, the profiles of the four suspects are sliced thin—so thin that it seems as if they only have one side. If you are looking for a Colin Firth fix or a hint of why Anne Elliot fell in love with Ciarnan Hinds’ Captain Wentworth, you won’t find it here. Other than Oldham and Cumberbatch, the actors are not given enough to do. Even so, Mark Strong who plays the spy who was shot in Hungary and Cumberbatch do shine whenever they are on the screen.

Tinker, Tailor is in my Top Ten novels of all time. I consider it to be Le Carre’s masterpiece. The PBS series succeeded in unwinding the intricate web Le Carre had spun for his readers, but for those who haven’t read the novel or seen the 1979 adaptation, Tinker Tailor is a confusing, dark, and disappointing muddle.


  1. Great movie review, Mary! I particularly loved the line, "dress patterns you should only see on upholstered furniture."
    I just love your humor!
    I probably won't see this as I don't watch much tv and even less movies, but it was still good to read! :)

  2. This movie sounds like one I would enjoy, Mary. Thanks for posting this review. I will definitely check it out.

  3. I liked the original and I was nervous when they decided to do a remake. I can see that my fears were well-founded if characters weren't given enough airtime to develop depth.

    Thanks for the review post!

  4. I do like your descriptions of the fashion and hair styles of the 60's! lol! Sadly, I have never heard of the book or the movies. In any case, I did enjoyed reading your review!

  5. Thanks, ladies, for dropping by. It's nice to fancy myself as being a movie reviewer. :)