Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I didn’t like it the first time I saw it. I wanted to like it – very much. Gary Oldman is one of my favorite actors and he has a top-rate supporting cast of Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
I was waiting for the intricate spy story, the dazzling espionage and breath-taking danger. But in George Smiley’s world of cold war intelligence it’s drudgery more than intrigue. It’s the rare occasion when you might meet a girl or your cover is blown or you’re tortured in some soviet lock up.
When I watched again, it struck me that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was, in some ways, more of a love story, a story of relationships, than a spy story; the love between Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) and Irina, between Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) and Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), the love between George (Gary Oldman) and Ann Smiley.
The story begins with a blown covert operation in Hungary, Jim Prideaux’s cover is blown and he is shot and taken prisoner and ultimately turned over to the Soviets where he is “worked” – tortured for several months. Prideaux had been assigned by the head of Circus, Control (John Hurt) to discover the mole within the Circus. When he finds out, he is to use one of the code names Tinker (Percy Alleline) Tailor (Bill Haydon), Soldier (Roy Bland), etc., when communicating back to Control.
But Prideaux never gets the chance. The blown operation leads to the ouster of Control and Smiley. Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) assumes the position of Circus Chief. Alleline had done an end-around Control, setting up “Witchcraft” a secret operation with a Soviet contact delivering sensitive, almost too good to be true, information to British Intelligence.
When a thought to be defected agent, Ricki Tarr surfaces with information that, in fact, Control (now dead) was right in his belief of a Soviet mole, Smiley is brought out of retirement to investigate and enlists the help of Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) an active agent within the Circus.
The film is somber and slowly paced. You’re immediately struck by the “low tech” days of the 70s. George Smiley is equally measured and reserved, and he calmly picks up where Control had left off in putting the pieces together.
One of my favorite scenes involves Smiley sharing with Guillam his meeting with KGB Spymaster “Karla.” Karla has been questioned and tortured by the Americans, and during a lay over en route back to Moscow, Smiley has 24 hours to convince Karla to defect to the West. He’s brought the chain-smoking spy cigarettes and appeals to him by repeatedly suggesting that as hard as his return to Moscow will be, it will be even harder on his wife. Karla doesn’t utter a word, doesn’t accept a cigarette – but later Smiley discovers that Karla pocketed his lighter, which had been a gift from his wife with the inscription “To George From Ann, with all my love.”
Smiley goes on to tell Guillam that after his session with Karla, he knew that he could be beaten because Karla was a fanatic and “the fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt.” Could the same apply to George?
Watch along with me Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy