Set in the early days of the Cold War, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is about lovers and liars, torture and betrayal in a world where nothing is certain; Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John Le Carre’s classic novel makes for a thrilling two hours of espionage immersion. The opening scene ends with bloodshed in Budapest, and we cross to Istanbul where Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) discovers an informant. The suspects have been narrowed to four and it is up to spy veteran George Smiley (Gary Oldman) to forgo his retirement and identify the mole within MI6.
The cast is top notch. Oldman squares up to Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kathy Burke and Toby Jones, but this superb array of British actors doesn’t detract at all from the film itself. Oldman triumphs in his role; you can see Smiley’s every experience etched onto his grey wrinkled face and tired eyes. He’s certainly no James Bond, and there is no femme fatale in sight, but he’s the quintessential British gent, and remains solid throughout (even after uncovering secrets about his colleagues and his wife).
Tinker Tailor keeps you guessing to the end. Peering through windows and doors, catching the reflection in Smiley’s glasses, it’s as if you become a spy yourself. You’re amidst the action, always speculating – “it’s definitely pug-like Percy (Jones). No that’s too obvious. It would only be interesting if Firth was the mole. Er, is it Smiley himself?” – You’re always being pushed to keep up with the pace. The drab and dreary setting is simply delightful: smoke filled rooms and labyrinthine corridors within the male dominated circus of MI6. This film’s indulgences are not in the paired-down script but in the lavish detail; from the heavy sideburns and topknots to the (many) cigarettes. If nothing else, it will leave you craving a scotch and a smoke.
An intricate chess game of bluff and betrayal across continents, with fantastic attention to detail, Tinker Tailor is tipped to be The King’s Speech of this year. It’s already smashed the Venice Film Festival, and I spy with my little eye that it will be a huge Oscar winner. Check mate!