Venice 2011: ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ review


Fresh from its premiere at the 2011 Venice Film Festival, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) is without doubt the finest film of 2011 so far. With an ensemble cast showcasing the very best of British talent – including Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds and John Hurt – and directed by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson – best know for his outstanding debut Let The Right One In (2008) – the film’s pedigree speaks for itself.

Set in the austere days of the Cold War, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a spy-thriller of intrigue and deception. There is a mole at the top of the ‘Circus’ – the codename used to refer to MI6 – and the high-ranking Control (Hurt) discovers that this mole has been feeding information to the Russians for years. After the sudden death of Control, it becomes the job of semi-retired spymaster George Smiley (Oldman) to uncover the Soviet spy.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is based on British author John Le Carré’s compelling novel of the same name. Adapted for the screen by Peter Straughan and perfectly directed by Tomas Alfredson, the film is a sublime work of art that not only pays homage to the book and the 1979 TV mini series – which famously starred Alec Guinness and Ian Richardson – but also manages to achieve something greater, an independent quality that makes Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy completely unique.

Straughan has majestically managed to lift that which is central to the novel without sacrificing character development. Alfredson has also previously shown that he is a truly masterful director, and once again displays these qualities. The manner in which he has filmed London expresses a bleak and cruel quality; the film looks and feels contemporary to the 1970s, and this is central to its success.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a wonderfully stylised piece that accepts the importance of visual aesthetics without losing any substance in terms of plot or narrative action. Alfredson has also cunningly created a film that explores all of the central characters to a depth where we become invested in their lives, whilst anchoring it upon George Smiley.

Oldman is perfectly cast as the somewhat socially awkward, yet brilliant spy. John Hurt’s performance is incredibly captivating, as is Cumberbatch, who creates a wonderful sense of tension as the youthful spy with a lot left to learn. The only flaw in casting could be said to be Kathy Burke, whose performance as Smiley’s old friend Connie Sachs lacks credibility.

Adding to the masterful screenplay, performances, direction and cinematography is the evocative score from Pedro Almodóvar collaborator Alberto Iglesias. The music harmoniously blends into the action; ever-present but unnoticed – the sign of a great original score.

Viewers should be aware that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an intelligent thriller that is complex and heavy-going, baring far greater resemblance to films such as the Ipcress File (1965) than James Bond action adventures, so don’t anticipate guns and gadgets. Expect only an incredibly well-made, beautifully shot film that  both fulfils and exceeds every expectation, and you too will be hoping that Alfredson considers adapting Le Carré’s follow-up novel, The Honourable School Boy.

For more Venice Film Festival 2011 coverage, simply follow this link.

Joe Walsh

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