Much of John le Carré’s work deals, some would say obsessively, with integrity, ably demonstrated both in his novels and the screen adaptations they’ve engendered. In considering Tomas Alfredson’s version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy one question must therefore be: how much does his treatment enlarge, or even improve, upon that delivered by the classic BBC series, featuring the late Alec Guinness as George Smiley, with its advantage of Cold War contemporaneity, the attendant fears and suspicions?
Like his predecessor, Alfredson also sticks closely to the original novel. With plots like Le Carré’s, he’d be a fool not to, and no attempt will be made here to summarise the tortuous ins and outs of goings on in “the Circus”, aka MI6, as Smiley seeks to ferret out the colleague who has been betraying him to Soviet arch nemesis Karla.
Alfredson gives us the greys and duns as a metaphor for the general dinginess of secret officialdom, its stifled hopes and the chilling consequences of failure – but so did the series.
He gives us sterling performances by Colin Firth, Mark Strong and John Hurt in supporting roles, but given the actors, this is also a given. The difference lies perhaps in Gary Oldman’s Smiley. Where Guinness was resignation personified, Oldman adds just enough humour and humanity to justify hope. It may be a hope retrospectively justified by the end of the Cold War.
As a winning combination, it makes Alfredson’s marginally lighter vision of integrity feel just that much more relevant and appealing.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy | Directed by by Tomas Alfredson (France, UK, Germany 2011) with Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Mark Strong. Starts February 2