In this adaptation from John Le Carré’s late 70s Cold war novel of the same name, Control (John Hurt) believes that there is a mole within British Intelligence, so he sends agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Hungary to meet with a Russian agent. Things soon go wrong for both Prideaux and Control, and it is up to George Smiley (Gary Oldman) to step in and find the mole who is leaking secrets to the other side, before the Americans share their secrets with the UK.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy uses the analogy of chess at certain points throughout the movie – images of suspected players in the betrayal are sellotaped to chess pieces in Control’s shadowy apartment – and this is the easiest thing to compare the film to. This is a classic slow burning plot, and rather than the audience having knowledge that our heroes do not, we are right along with them; discovering things as they do. George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is working in secret to discover the man who is betraying British secrets to the Russians, and the suspects are all at the top of the ‘Circus’ – Tinker; Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) who is immediately dislikable, Tailor; Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) who has some of the best lines of the film and is oh so suave, Soldier Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), Poor Man Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) and George Smiley himself. While the hints are there as to the identity of the mole, the audience never feels the courage of their convictions, as suspicions change rapidly throughout.
It would be easy to say that Gary Oldman as George Smiley carries this film, but this is simply not the case. Oldman is the central figure of the film and his understated performance as the man who appears to have lost everything is crucial to the understanding of the historical setting; this is a man who has lost his career and his wife, but these are trying times in Britain, and he embodies the stiff upper lip mentality but is never completely cold. Oldman stepped into shoes left vacant by Alec Guinness after his portrayal of the character in the 1973 mini series, but firmly makes Smiley his own. The supporting cast of actors are equally superb; Benedict Cumberbatch takes a step down from the genius Sherlock Holmes that he played so well on BBC TV last year, and plays a slightly less confident man, who is much more accessible to the audience. Mark Strong – he is in everything these days – plays a much less caricatured character than we are used to seeing him play, and he does it with subtlety and conviction. John Hurt – as always – is top notch as the frayed around the edges Control and Colin Firth is playful and charming for the time that he is on the screen; which actually doesn’t amount to much.
Director Tomas Alfredson’s first English language film does not carry the spookiness of Let The Right One In, but this is not what this film needed. This is a square off between two spy masters; many of the scenes exude the oppression that the characters feel while spying on their own and the film as a whole is heavy on period atmosphere but it is so engrossing that the emotional aloofness may only be felt at the end of the film.
Do not try and outguess the players at the centre of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; you will leave yourself exhausted, instead, revel in this film, the performances are incredible to watch and the film is a visual treat. There are wonderful touches that remind the audience that they are watching a spy movie; shots framed through windows and what appears to be constant hazy mist. There is also a lovely nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. This film is a true return to form for Gary Oldman, and showcases some of the best talent we have at the moment; Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch and Christian McKay (in a blink and you will miss it role) are on the up and up, their performances in this still, quiet thriller only go to prove this. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a slow and intense thriller with incredible performances, wonderful direction and beautiful set design.