March 17, 2016
I’m quite busy with John LeCarré right now, currently finishing up Our Kind of Traitor. The film version starring Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Damian Lewis & Stellan Skarsgård hits the UK on May 13, no word on a release date here in the US yet. That being the case I’m going to revisit Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The film, fabulous from its’ period perfect clothing to Oscar nominated screenplay is currently available to stream on Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, GooglePlay and Netflix.
Here’s my piece, originally posted November 30, 2011:
MY TAKE ON THE BOOK, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
At this time of year our mail is full of envelopes from the studios who screen their award season contenders at multiple locations and times through the end of the year. Sometimes they are held in small private screening rooms at a studio, other times they're at public theatres. Mark's DGA card entitles him to entry with a guest. By the time he actually plowed through the stack of envelopes and called the RSVP line, all the Los Angeles screenings had been booked up. Hence the lovely drive up the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset, the sea glimmering to the west, Ventura, Carpenteria, Summerland, Montecito and Santa Barbara to the east, green and lush, the small mountain range hovering in the background. I always love this drive; had the film turned out to be a bomb, the hour each way in the car would have been enough. It wasn't a bomb, but it may be box office wise.
The film started, sans the usual previews, typical for a screening. While the studio screening rooms don't have a snack bar, this theatre did but we passed on the popcorn and soda. The other notable thing that happens in a screening is most of the audience actually stays to watch the credits, something that never happens on a Saturday night at your local movie house. It's not just a sign of respect; you search the names looking for old friends and colleagues or because you were so wowed by the makeup you have to know who keyed it, where was it shot, who played that small but spectacular part?
But do they? Having read the book, I had a pretty good handle on who the fairly large assortment of spys and counterspies were and what they were doing. And yes, in this somewhat tidied up version, a few of those names were lopped off; I wonder how easily the storyline is followed by someone who hasn't (heaven forbid) read the book first?
I do think it wouldn't have hurt Gary Oldman to have picked up a pound or two to pad his girth so he could more readily be LeCarrés fat barefoot spy, and I admit to examining the lines on his face from one scene to another to determine their source, makeup or life. Makeup I think. Having said that, I thought he was quite wonderful in his patient, calm, quiet reserve on the exterior, George Smiley. He isn't really called upon to do much more than that though, with a couple of exceptions, one being where he sees his wife in the arms of another man. (Won't say whose arms for those who haven't read it) so I don't think it has the histrionics needed for award season. The director has all but hidden the elusive Ann from our eyes, perhaps so we can create the perfect fantasy woman that Smiley holds her to be? There is a lovely moment when we view George from the back, as he sees Ann, his legs barely buckle at the sight. It's a very subtle and perfect touch.
Mark Strong isn't at all what I pictured when I read about Jim Pridoux and they've changed a bit about his role in the plot (in the book it's a little more action-oriented!) and I would have loved some more sweet moments with Bill Roach and the other boys but he won me over; his eyes tell a thousand tales. I really feel the need to imdb him and see everything else he's been in. My husband worked with him on Tristan and Isolde starring James Franco and says Strong is just a terrific guy, classically trained, brilliant and intensely likable.
Colin Firth, the film's resident movie star, as Bill Haydon was quite as charming as LeCarré intended but isn't he always? That mix of swagger and vulnerability, the offhand smile; he's quite deadly.
The director, Tomas Alfredson, is a Swede who has done mostly nordic television work so I can't quite fathom how he landed such a plum job. He did helm the vampire flick "Let the Right One In" which has a huge cult following. Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan wrote the screenplay together as they did Sixty Six, a film I've never heard of. BUT Straughan also wrote The Debt and Men Who Stare at Goats so the writing assignment does make sense.
Grey and gloomy London, Budapest and Istanbul, the Circus with it's soundproof modules, tatty old English homes and Control's crazed hoarder's flat all read beautifully and authentically thanks to Maria Djurkovic's production design, and Hoyte Van Hoytema's cinematography. The costume design by veteran Jacqueline Durran was perfect in its imperfection, just what you would expect from someone who did the wardrobe for Atonement, Pride and Prejudice and Vera Drake. Her latest film is Anna Karenina (what? again?) with Keira Knightly and Jude Law; period pictures are clearly her element.