Sunday, 30 October 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I recently visited my local multiplex to see this new adaptation of John le Carre's classic book on cold war espionage, directed by Tomas Alfredson, who brought us Let The Right One In.

I grew up in the 70s, the period that this piece is set in, and I can still recall my parents being glued to the television set watching the original BBC series, which at that time was seen as very contemporary drama, starring Alec Guinness. As a young boy I found the whole thing rather dull, preferring the more exciting world of James Bond.

And I haven't changed my opinion this time round.

The production design was exceptional however, capturing the beige, anorak-wearing world of the 70s and showcasing the classic vehicles of the time and the penchant for concrete box buildings, most of which are still around unfortunately, much to the delight of the location manager no doubt.

In this most recent adaptation, when we first set eyes upon its key character George Smiley, played by Gary Oldman, you could be forgiven for thinking the whole film was going to be dialogue-free as we wait so long for him to speak, almost half an hour.

The film centres around the hunt for an internal mole within the intelligence service, headed up by Control, played by John Hurt. George Smiley, having been dismissed previously, is brought back in to root out the mole who's been selling secrets to the Soviets.
The suspects are all senior people in the Service played by an impressive cast of Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds and David Dencik. Smiley's dogsbody assistant, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a far more interesting character throughout and a fantastic performance by Kathy Burke gave us much needed relief in the form of a few laughs. I couldn't help feeling though that the casting was a little too heavyweight, probably in order to guarantee attracting an audience, to what was, overall, a very slow moving, 2 hours plus, where nothing ever really happened with any degree of pace and I was left wondering how well it would have done at the box office office without these popular stars.

What was very enjoyable was the realistic portrayal of this shabby and disorganised world of the spy, with it's drab decor and pallid offices filled with secondary smoke, typing pools occupied by only women, old telex machines, heavy steel filing cabinets and large clunky telephones. It made you realise just how far we've come in terms of computers, mobile phones and of course the world-changing internet.

The opening few minutes gave me a feeling of hope and anticipation. Set in Budapest we enter a nervous atmosphere as an agent, played by Mark Strong, enters a situation where he is to meet a contact that will assist in the defection of a general. It is very tense, where everyone in the scene could be an enemy. But from this point on it gradually changes down gears to almost stall at points.

Jason Bourne it certainly isn't, and though it is a great atmospheric piece it is still, overall, a period drama that never really gets you onto the edge of your seat.

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