Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Released: 2011
Director: Tomas Alfredson

Starring: Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Toby Jones


An intelligent thriller which takes us back to the Cold War

When I named my five must-see films for autumn/winter 2011 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was right at the top of the list.  The extended clips and discussion with producer Robyn Slovo and screenwriter Peter Straughan at Empire Big Screen really whetted my appetite.  This was a film I’ve been really looking forward to seeing and thankfully it didn’t disappoint.

Based on John Le Carre’s classic cold war espionage thriller, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy follows (forcibly) retired spy George Smiley who is called back into action to discover which of his former MI6 colleagues is a Soviet spy.  Four senior intelligence officers at the top of the “Circus” are under suspicion and Smiley has to uncover the traitor while keeping his investigation secret and his assistants safe.

This is a brilliant, intelligent and suspenseful film.  I held my breath in the moments leading to the unveiling of the mole such was the tension created.  The atmosphere in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is absolutely fantastic and adds beautifully to the sense of danger and betrayal which makes the story so compelling.  Director Tomas Alfredson took the decision to make the film look as bleak and as washed out as possible.  The cinematography by Hoyte van Hotyeman really captures (or to be more accurate, creates) the Cold War atmosphere.  All of the period detail is excellent from the clothes and hair to the cars.  We feel as though we are smack bang in the middle of the 1970s, without the movie ever feeling old-fashioned.

The script is intelligent and trusts the audience to follow the plot without falling into the trap of including too much exposition.  At some points the brevity of the script is surprising but it works well.  George Smiley doesn’t speak often, but when he does we listen.  We know that he has something important to say.  There are no big speeches, just understated and naturalistic conversations.  All of the actors convey the drama in their facial expression and in slight movements such as the closing of a notebook or putting on glasses.

Of course the main appeal in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the magnificent cast.  Gary Oldman as Smiley is simply brilliant.  I would never have considered him as the ideal candidate to play an aging, taciturn, wise spy but his performance was sublime.  The supporting cast was hugely impressive – a real roll-call of the best of British acting talent.  My particular favourites were Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Colin Firth and Tom Hardy.  Kathy Burke has a small part with the funniest line of the film and I was reminded again what a great actress she is.  I would love to wax lyrical about the actor who plays the traitor but to do so would spoil things.  Suffice to say that I’m expecting an Oscar nomination for this guy and I may huff if he isn’t recognised for this performance.

It isn’t a perfect film.  There are slow moments, but at the same time I found some elements to be a bit rushed and abrupt.  It’s also hard to really love a film where there is little chance to create any emotional connection with the characters.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of the best acted, best directed and best looking films you’ll see this year.  I hope it’s a great British success story.

PS: I also want to thank the cinema we visited for such an authentic performance clearly designed to be like going to the pictures in the 1970’s – the era of the film.  From the dodgy low resolution adverts and crazy fonts used in the on-screen announcements to the frankly bizarre behaviour of fellow movie-watchers, who must have been hired-in extras.  Somebody waited until all the adverts and trailers were over to open a can of drink at the quiet suspenseful moment just after the start of the film, while the old ladies in front of us were nattering and the old fella behind fidgeted throughout.  At one point we were even treated to a variety of sounds we eventually worked out was him rolling a cigarette.  One of the best cinemas I’ve been to in a while!

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  1. I am glad you liked the film Louise, I STILL have not been able to get there…I am getting angry about it now!!

    Interesting you say you enjoyed the noisey 70s style cinema experience, sounds bloody awful.

    • Better than the 2010s experience of chuntering teenagers, mobile phones and lights that go on while the film is still on. I must get round to writing my article about the ideal cinema visit – don’t think I’ve ever had it.

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