I Rented It On DVD: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy

Remember the good old days when we knew who the bad guys were?

"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" cover (for 2012 DVD)

Then return with us (even if you don’t remember) to those thrilling days of yesteryear when the biggest threat to the Free World was the Red Menace.

With his owlish spectacles, drab overcoat and scholarly demeanor British Secret Service agent George Smiley as played by Gary Oldman is the antithesis of Daniel Craig’s dashing secret agent in recent James Bond films. And he certainly doesn’t have 007’s way with the ladies. In fact,  Oldman’s Smiley seems haunted by the failure of his marriage to  a woman whom we never meet (even though she plays an important role in the plot.)

Gary Oldman as George Smiley: Not Exactly a Glamor Role

Called out of retirement to find a double agent hiding in the upper ranks of the British Secret Service and leaking valuable info to the enemy, Smiley reveals that there is a keen ruthless intelligence operating behind the eyes.  

For me the film is worth watching for the acting alone. (Director Tomas Alfredson calls the cast “a candy shop for directors”.)  

In addition to Mr. Oldman (who earned the first Academy Award nomination of a long and distinguished career for his understated performance as Smiley) the cast includes Brit stage and/or screen vets Colin Firth , John Hurt , Ciaran Hinds,  Toby Jones and Mark Strong as well as Tom Hardy (Inception) and Christian McKay (Me and Orson Welles.

No wonder Benedict Cumberbatch says he is framing his call sheet.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes: "Elementary, my dear Smiley"

Incidentally, if that unwieldy moniker doesn’t ring the proverbial bell, Mr. Cumberbatch plays the title role in  BBC-TV’s Sherlock  (seen on PBS in America). His quirky, detailed performance is arguably the prime reason the series works, despite its fanciful premise. (As played by Mr. Cumberbatch, Holmes is a hip, youthful detective solving crimes in his own inimitable fashion in  modern day London.)

Tinker, Tailor  also received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan adapted the script from the best-selling 1974 novel by former British Secret Service agent David Cromwell, writing under the pen name John Le Carre.

John Le Carre aka David Cromwell circa 1964

Cromwell  worked for MI6 in the 1950s and 60s until a novel he wrote under the Le Carre pen name, The Spy Who Came In The Cold,  became such a huge hit he was able to leave the service and become a full-time author.

The character of the double agent in the Tinker Tailor novel is based on real life espionage agent  Kim Philby.  (Cromwell was still working for MI6  when Philby defected to the East in the early Sixties.)

The Smiley character has been portrayed a number of times on screen, most notably by Sir Alec Guinness in two highly rated BBC-TV miniseries: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) and Smiley’s People (1982)

However, Sir Alec is no longer with us (he passed away in 2000) and as far as I can tell, having not read the book or seen the long ago miniseries, Oldman is  more than adequate in the role. (With a worldwide gross of $80 mil there is already talk of filming more Smiley yarns.)

Le Carre (yes, he’s still alive) gives his stamp of approval to Oldman’s performance in the film in a DVD extra as well as making  a cameo appearance in the film.

Gary Oldman, Tomas Alfredson and John LeCarre smile for the cameras at UK premiere


Author: rixbitz

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