Tinker, Tailor…The Verdict

Warning: Contains spoilers! Following on from my last post, I went to the local Cineworld yesterday evening to watch the new movie, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.‘ How did it compare with the magnificent 1979 BBC series starring Alec Guinness?

Well, the new film version certainly had very impressive production values. I had a lot of fun spotting all the 1970’s touches. The screen always seemed to be one shade or another of brown. There was some fine dialogue – with Kathy Burke’s character (Connie Sachs) easily getting biggest laugh amongst the cinema-goers with a very rude line that I am not brave enough to repeat here! And the eagle eyed will have spotted John Le Carre – the writer of the novel – making a walk-on appearance.

However, was the movie able to successfully condense a story that took the BBC seven 45 minute episodes to properly film into its 127 minutes running time? Well, as I left the cinema I heard some who had been in the audience saying things like “well, that was a bit difficult to follow”, “I didn’t quite understand…”, and “there seemed to be big gaps in the story”. If I hadn’t seen the BBC version then I most probably would have agreed with the general thrust of these remarks.

The movie version just did not have the time to flesh out the character of Toby Esterhase and as for Roy Bland – my goodness, I would be astonished if anyone who watched the movie with me last night understood what on earth his role was. The BBC version by way of contrast was able to spend some time in character development and help us gain an insight into their motivations and therefore help us to empathise with them. This was very much lacking in the new movie version.

Also, there was a wonderful line that Alec Guinness delivered in the BBC version – and it was also in Le Carre’s original novel – where he asks Toby Esterhase: “Ever bought a fake picture? The more you pay for it, the less inclined you are to doubt it.” It is only a couple of sentences but they perfectly capture the nature of the deception to which the British Secret Intelligence Services have been subjected. They help the reader/viewer comprehend the enormity of what has transpired. There really was no equivalent line in the new movie so I am not very surprised that there were some who were not able to follow what had happened.

I would recommend watching the new movie – the themes it deals with including love, betrayal, deception are all universal ones that we can all relate to and it provides an important corrective to the notion of the spy as James Bond. A better bet would be to also buy the BBC DVD version which is currently on sale at Amazon for the incredible price of £4.87 including free delivery! In comparison, my cinema ticket last night cost £8.40 and as a bonus there is a very good one-hour documentary included in the BBC DVD which goes into some of the background to Tinker, Tailor and the Kim Philby affair.

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