Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds

One thing I try to maintain while writing this blog is a good sense of humour, one that I can inject into just about any material I happen to be writing about. While reviewing Ulysses, I like to think I will trail off halfway because I remembered a humourous story about a duck.

However, this is particularly tricky when it comes to reviewing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, as this is a very very serious film, and not one to be taken lightly, either in viewing, or in discussing.

The plot:
(I wish I knew!!)
There is a spy within the M16, the Secret Intelligence Service of England. It is the Cold War era, 1974, a bad time to have a bug in the system. Knowledge of this is discovered by one Ricky Tarr (Hardy). George Smiley (Oldman), a semi-retired agent and Peter Guillam (Cumberbatch) are assigned with the task of investigating and eventually uncovering the mole’s identity.

This film is not for everyone. Let’s get that straight right from the off. It doesn’t matter if you are a huge fan of whichever actor or actress, or you love Tomas Alfredsons’ work, this is hardcore spy thriller material. If that doesn’t immediately appeal to you, you may as well stop reading right now.

…….still here? All right, let’s get on with this charade.

I am not a fan of spy thrillers. The only bond film I’ve seen beginning to end is Dr. No, and that was because I heard there was a dragon in it. I was as disappointed as 007 was when I discovered this was a fabrication. Yet, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy held my interest. This is an incredibly notable achievement, considering how little regard I hold with British politics.

The film is well paced, with more than enough sub plots to hold your interest. At the same time, it rarely becomes convoluted. A considerable amount of time is spent with Jim Prideaux (Strong) and Ricky Tarr, both of whom feel divorced from the rest of the cast, despite being integral to the central plot. Strong does interesting work by, for once, not playing a villain, and we see some very impressive and emotional scenes with him. Hardy supplies what could be considered the more action orientated side of the story and does excellent work carrying these scenes.

The main plot is very politics-heavy. Whereas this would normally be considered a downside for me, it is quirky and fast enough to be fully enjoyable. One scene which involves an infiltration into the circus (the M16) is spectacularly intense and fully succeeds in getting the heart racing.

While the entire cast delivers exceptional performances, it is Gary Oldman’s film. It is no wonder he is currently being revered as the exceptional actor he is, with performances such as these under his belt. George Smiley is a clever man, this much is openly explicit. However, unlike a great deal of intellectuals in film who simply feel like written characters, the cogs working inside Smiley’s head can almost be seen to be turning.
He has little quirks, and obvious flaws. He goes swimming in a freezing river to exercise, but so too do other people as the film shows us. He is not a hero, nor is he an underdog. Try not to think of Die Hard when I say, he is just a man doing his job. Despite what people might tell you, it is not his character that impresses. It is how frighteningly well Gary Oldman can portray a human being who is so real that is so very exceptional.


As mentioned, this is not my kind of film. Ideally, my film will deal with adventure, horror, fantasy, or it may deal with some more philosophical questions, regarding life, death and the universe. It may even have a dragon or two in it. Needless to say, politics has no place in these films. And yet, I cannot ignore the mastery which unfolded before me as I watched this on the silver screen. I remained thoroughly entertained throughout and it is so well crafted it easily merits another viewing, if not two! Admittedly, it can be quite alienating, as it does deal with serious historical material and the political jargon is somewhat off-putting. However, if you should choose to go see this film, it means you are, at the very least, not wholly dismissive of its content. Therefore, you can be assured that you will leave quite satisfied, if not enthralled.

Awful Rating: 9/10

We are not so very different, you and I. We’ve both spent our lives looking for the weaknesses in one another.” – George Smiley

Shamelessly Awful Facts:

  • I went to see this with my parents. THE SHAME, THE SHAME!
    I felt like I was growing up at that stage, going to see a political film and having a mature conversation about it afterwards……admittedly, the mature converstation essentially went along the lines of:
    “Could you follow that?”
    “No, could you?”
    “No. Will we go have a drink?”
    “All right then!”
    ….but still!

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