‘Tinker Tailor’ takes on Cold War espionage with political distance


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When “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” opens in American theaters Friday, it won’t be the first time the John le Carré novel has been brought to the screen. But it will be the first time the spy story has been adapted since the end of the Cold War, giving the filmmakers more of an outsider perspective on the conflict than the creators of the 1979 miniseries had.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” -- about Le Carré’s iconic spy character George Smiley as he’s forced into retirement -- was published in 1974. (Smiley appears in other Le Carré books as well.) In this adaptation, Gary Oldman fills Smiley’s shoes, which have been worn in various projects by Sir Alec Guinness, Rupert Davies and James Mason.


At the film’s L.A. premiere on Tuesday, Colin Firth said the 1979 TV adaptation of ‘Tinker Tailor’ was viewed as “an up-to-date, up-to-the-minute documentation of how these things really unfold. Now of course we can take a rather patronizing look back at how wrong everybody was.” The actor plays intelligence officer Bill Haydon in the film.

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Some cynicism about the Cold War comes through in a scene when Smiley is talking with MI6 researcher Connie Sachs (Kathy Burke). She says of World War II, “It was a good time.” “It was a war,” Smiley responds, to which Burke says, “It was a real war. Englishmen could be proud then.”

“I don’t think we could have made this film back then. I think there’d have been political implications. It’s given us distance,” co-writer Peter Straughan said.

That four decades-long distance not only creates the opportunity to take a more cynical, critical perspective of the Cold War; it also has given the filmmakers the opportunity to keep the movie focused on the themes of friendship and betrayal.

“If we had done this when the Cold War was going on, people might have wanted us to be more political or dramatic or tried to be philosophical about the East-West conflict. We have chosen to make a very character-driven and emotional drama,” director Tomas Alfredson said.


“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” comes to U.S. theaters Friday, following its premiere at the Venice Film Festival and a September opening in Britain.


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-– Emily Rome