Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the 2011 film version

For @Tiberius_Jolly.

Huge spoilers throughout.

The short, twitter-version of the review went –

TinkerTailorSoldierSpy – Oldman exceptional, everything else (with a couple of honourable exceptions) a bit meh.

And I still stick by that.  Gary Oldman is exceptional in this, really, I mean, even by his high standards.  Especially the scene where he’s reliving his interrogation of Karla is the dictionary definition of OMGoshWow!

and I would have been cool with him getting the Oscar.

The honourable exceptions previously mentioned are:

– Tom Hardy’s Ricky Tarr who is made a lot more likeable than in the book but the man works it well, I just wanted to give him a hug.

– Mark Strong’s Jim Prideaux, who they didn’t mess up, saints be praised. The bit at the Christmas party before the end … it made me make that internal ‘gah!’ noise which is always a good thing, I am caught up in the narrative.

– The Christmas party itself, which is every bit as ghastly as the novel (in passing) mentions. Smiley when he finds out about the affair, and Prideaux and Haydon and, I’m sorry but I got the intended giggle out of the British Secret Service singing along [with the glorious exception of Toby Esterhase] the Soviet anthem (as did the woman behind me, the rest of the cinema I was in, not so much).

The major problem is that, because it only runs to 2 hours 7 minutes, they’ve had to squash things and bend things, which is not going to work when your original book is 440-ish pages. But for some unknown reason, it’s the female characters who have been hit hardest by these changes.  (And yes, I know it was a female script-writer that did the adaptation)

Ann, for instance, who the film reduces to a voiceless, faceless, nymphomaniacal cypher, is a vibrant, forceful, intriguing, admittedly nymphomaniacal, enigma in the book. You can see why George fell for her, and that’s all missing in the film. And it’s quite disturbing, the lengths that the film goes to to keep her faceless and voiceless.

Then there’s Connie, who is not just another researcher, she’s head of Research section, thank you very much, and the person who fires her and tells her to go out into the real world is not Alleline, but another female character, the dreaded Dolphin (who is never seen in the book, but is a constant presence).

Connie’s replacement as head of Research is another woman, Molly Purcell, who is one of the grown ups in the scene where Guillam gets interogated.

Then there’s Sal in Archives, who is a jolly hockeysticks judoka and who Peter asks ‘what are you doing this weekend’ not vice versa.

On the Russian side, Irina is also a Moscow-trained hood, and is the one who says ‘it takes one to know one’ (or that kind of thing), and is a more qualified textiles trader than her old man.

I mean, there were some points where the film gets mega props, you know, actually engaging Russian speakers to play Russian speaking characters. I can’t comment on the quality of the Russian or the Hungarian but I have hopes.

I assume they switched to Budapest because the bit of Prague they want looks totally different now. That was one of the fun bits of reading the book after visiting Prague, being able to map the locations almost exactly.

I am also amused that despite this being a big film, they still don’t have the money to do Tarr and Irina’s bit in Hong Kong where it actually is. I accept Istanbul as a substitute.

Apparently the reason that everything in London looks so grotty is that it’s based on the directors reminisces from when he visited in the 70s. I am somewhat ambivalent about some of the changes, I don’t like what they’ve done to the Islay Hotel or Lacon’s Berkshire Camelot. They’ve somehow managed to make Sarratt/The Nursery and the whole of the Circus look even smaller and meaner than it is in the book, which I quite like, while the inside of Control’s flat makes me violently homesick.

As I said previously, the changes in plot/character/stuff have been forced on them due to running time. Some of the choices made are thoroughly reasonable like moving Prideaux’s adventures to the start because otherwise the beginning really is just a lot of men talking, smerging Jerry Westerby with Sam Collins, even though the character is definitely Sam Collins, not putting in Max.

Not showing Karla’s interogation by Smiley was genius, and I loved the use of ‘Oh Mr. Wu’ to throw suspicion on Bland.

Some of them I’m neutral about like it being Control going to Lacon saying ‘mole!’ rather than Smiley.

Some of them I just don’t get, rather than disliking, such as changing the timeline of Rikki’s misadventures in Hong Kong Istanbul so that it occurs before Prideaux’s trip to Prague Budapest. I have to admit it confused me and I shall ask the person who’d never read / seen it how he felt about it.

Then there’s the changes I understand why but dislike:

Okay, so in the book, it’s not obvious who the mole is, but there is really only one person it could be, and I think the film tried to make it less obvious, which I understand. So they gave Alleline Haydon’s job of speaking to the Americans, and they gave Bland Haydon’s womanising (all though, in Bill Haydon’s defence, he doesn’t pester women into it, they throw themselves at him) and they just up Toby’s sinister central Europeaness (although in a major backfire, I do feel quite sorry for him at various points). Unfortunately, that leaves Haydon somewhat underwritten so you don’t get the same feeling of upset and loss when the mole turns out to be SHINY WONDERFUL BILL HAYDON.

Because Gary Oldman isn’t old the way Alec Guiness was old (not an age thing, an aspect thing) it meant that everyone else was made so much younger. Not a problem with Tarr, and I don’t mind Control being the one to recruit Toby and Bland. The one it presents a problem with is Peter Guillam who looks like a young, up-coming buck who is barely old enough to wash behind his ears. The film just gives you all his bad qualities, his temper, his rush to judgement without thinking, but they don’t give you that he’s someone who has successfully run agents in North Africa, that he’s not a bad boss and that he’s actually a damned good agent. The book is him growing up and learning that all your heroes (he is specifically mentioned as having modelled himself on Haydon) all have feet of clay. Not that Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t do his best with aforementioned underwritten role. As does Colin Firth.

Much though I loved Polyakov’s “I don’t know why you’re worried, you’ll get a medal and a flat in Moscow, I’m the one that’s going to be sent to Siberia”, I really don’t like how they did the reveal because they have no ratcheting tension, not the way they should be. It falls flat.

And let’s not talk about how Prideaux gets to within far too close for that rifle distance of a government building buzzing with secret agents in broad daylight and shoots prisoner number one without anyone noticing.

But yes, it’s well made, and it’s not bad, but it’s not good either.

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