Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Country: United Kingdom

Duration: 127 min

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy 


Using his keen powers of observation to identify weaknesses and contradiction, the taciturn Smiley is able to pierce through falsehood and reveal truth.

(Don’t worry. No spoilers.)

In the world of international espionage where ulterior motives abound, your deepest desires are your greatest weaknesses. To love is to expose oneself to exploitation. To trust is to be vulnerable to betrayal.

Thus a heavy atmosphere of unhappiness pervades Thomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The elite spies of MI6 are very lonely indeed.

The 2011 film, starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley, a British MI6 operative, is based on the highly successful series of novels, written by author John Le Carre.

Alfredson’s direction accurately recreates the cynicism of Le Carre’s stories, where, the English spies, in contrast to the glamorous antics of Ian Fleming’s James Bond, lead unfulfilled somewhat solitary lives. They are often wracked with feelings of disillusion and self-doubt, uncertain as to the relevance of their work and acutely aware of Britain’s declining international influence

These bleak emotions are especially enhanced in the film by the dreary urban architecture of 1970’s London, this, and the grey, cloudy skies of the British isles, form a strong cinematic backdrop to the unfolding narrative.

It is 1972 and the British government along with its American allies are engaged in the Cold War. The current head of MI6, “Control”, suspects there to be an informer on the British side passing information to the Soviets.

To investigate this further he sends an agent, Jim Prideaux, to Czechoslovakia to meet with a Czech general who is apparently willing to sell information about the traitor.

Prideaux’s mission turns out to be a trap, he is shot and in the ensuing scandal Control is ousted from his position by four members of his inner circle: Haydon, Esterhase, Bland and Alleline.

Along with Control, his right-hand man, George Smiley is forced into retirement, and their positions are usurped by the other four men.

However, quite soon after, Control dies, and Smiley is recruited back into MI6 by government minister Oliver Lacon, to investigate Control’s suspicions about the mole.

It is here that the deep distrust and fractured friendships of MI6 are revealed in their grim totality. Smiley discovers that Control suspected not only his inner circle, but even the person who was closest to him: Smiley.

Smiley appoints “scalper” Peter Guillam (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) as his assistant in the investigation, which uncovers a complex network of deceit and treachery.

Smiley undertakes his task not in a series of daring action sequences, but through psychological analysis and clever trickery.

Using his keen powers of observation to identify weaknesses and contradiction, the taciturn Smiley is able to pierce through falsehood and reveal truth.

Director Tomas Alfredson’s muted style is perfectly suited to a story and characters of this kind. His previous film Let the Right One In (2008) beautifully blended the wintry landscapes of Sweden with sparse dialogue, creating intimate moments of mutual understanding where not a word is spoken, but deep feeling is shared between the characters.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does have more dialogue, but it is subtle and not overly verbose. There are no scenes with long exposition, as viewers we are encouraged, like Smiley, to make sense of silence.

Though it explores the effectiveness of Smiley’s methods, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, does not valorise him nor shy away from exploring the melancholy nature of his life.

This meta-narrative underscores the more straightforward mystery plot of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which ultimately lifts it above the usual banal offerings of the genre, reaching the level of fine art.

Also see: Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial, and Nazi Hunters

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