Saturday, 17 September 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Forget everything you've learnt. Being a spy is not sexy. Exhibit A Yer Honour, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The ironically-monikered George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is stuffy and middle-aged. (NB: this is in the days when being in your fifties looked like being in your seventies.) At one point he unceremoniously removes his Walther PPK - that’s James Bond’s gun - not from a sleek shoulder holster but from a shabby plastic wallet just as he might his sandwiches. This, incidentally, is a rare occasion when we actually see some hardware.

It’s the early seventies. The Cold War is positively glacial and Smiley is tracking down a double agent in British intelligence. The action flows at glacial speed too. There is little made of actual operations. They are momentary but incendiary. The onus is on finding the Soviet mole in the “Circus” (The Secret Intelligence Service).

The performances and attention to period detail is the main charm. The production design is stunning, and all things sartorial – even the most staid – offer some kind of allure. Weirdly, the film manages to be attractive while simultaneously showing up the crappiness of seventies Britain and its Empire in serious decay. Smiley is a laconic sort and, as a result, Oldman delivers a potent, internalised performance. He is backed by a strong British cast – from relative newcomers (Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberpatch) to stalwarts (Mark Strong, Ciarin Hinds, Tobey Jones) to an Oscar-winner (Colin Firth) to a living legend (John Hurt). Unsurprisingly, the acting’s not bad.

Smiley almost disappears within the large cast and fragmented story. Other than being King of the poker face we are given little indication of his strengths. It is not a character-driven story of Smiley but it’s neither a balls-to-the-wall spy flick. Instead, it occupies a vapid no-man’s land between the two. It is easy to be dazzled by such slick production value when the actual story is lifeless as this.

File:Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Poster.jpg


  1. You daringly try to swim against the raging stream of critical opinion. Shurley you've made shome mishtake.

    Not every film can be Johnny English Reborn, William.

  2. In all seriousness, it's not a bad film. It's just not as great as everyone else (it seems) makes out. No doubt many of you will love it and vilify me for the rest of my reviewing life as I hide out, trembling in Controversial Corner ;)

  3. I kind of have to agree young William. It looked incredible but the characters are almost totally lost in the style of it all. Especially the Tinker, The Tailor, The Soldier and The Spy. We knew almost nothing about them so how were we meant to care when the mole was finally revealed. Only Tom Hardy's character seemed to have any depth and passion to him. Still, at least it's an interesting, different film for British cinema so let's give them that!

  4. Yes - the production design was flawlessly stunning: yes - I love and admire many of the actors, but 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, zzzz' - I fell deeply asleep for a good ole chunk...