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 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 and Cumberbatch do shine whenever they are on the screen. Hungary
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.