Twitter Plot Summary: It’s the 1970s and there’s a mole within the ranks of MI6. Veteran George Smiley is tasked with finding him.
Five Point Summary:
1. John Hurt doing his thing.
2. A meeting that goes awry – it’s a mole’s fault, apparently.
3. They’re all so very British about it. Brilliant.
4. Gary Oldman – no shoes, just socks.
The 1970s, the height of the cold war. MI6 are locked in a regular game of cat and mouse with their Russian counterparts as both organisations attempt to outdo the other. After an operation in Budapest goes wrong, Control (Hurt), the head of the organisation, is forced out and takes the permanently baffled face of faithful spy George Smiley (Oldman) with him on his way out. Some time later Smiley is asked back out of retirement to help unearth a mole within MI6, one who is feeding information to the Russians. What follows is wrought with misdirection and surprises as Smiley digs deeper and deeper to flush out the traitor.
Director Tomas Alfredson’s previous notable work includes Let The Right One In, a modern vampire story and again an adaptation of a novel. To say there is a link between the two films besides the literary connection would be entirely false, but they do both share Alfredson’s penchant for creating a dreamlike sense to every shot of the film. It has that slow, deliberate pace that sets it out from other films of the genre, yet never fails to be engaging. The 1970s setting is perfectly realised – lots of funky hairstyles and a plethora of orange and brown fashions – and the use of contemporary equipment sets it apart from more modern spy thrillers. Tape was a brilliant thing, wasn’t it? Oldman is the quintessential spy as Smiley, barely giving anything away in his facial expressions, a cold personality in a Cold War. Furthermore he’s incredibly British, which is never a bad thing, old chap.
There are a plethora of big name actors for you to enjoy, and also by turn try and work out which of them is the mole. John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Colin Firth – it’s an amazing amount of talent drawn to appear in this story. So much so in fact, and taking into account its 70s setting, women rather understandably get short shrift in terms of screen time. The only notable appearance is Kathy Burke, for all but a few moments. This is one occasion where the poor representation of women doesn’t irk me. For one it was the 1970s, and to try and paint the era as anything but a mysogynistic period would be a lie. Furthermore, cramming in strong female characters for the sake of it is always noticeable, so I’m glad they didn’t go down that route.
It’s a very taut state of affairs, and directed with precision so you’re never quite sure who the mole might be. Many misdirections and subtle hints are provided, but even by the conclusion you’re not absolutely certain who the mole is until Smiley confronts them. I’ve never read Le Carre’s novel, nor have I seen the Alec Guinness TV mini series, so I walked into this film adaptation with no expectations. As an old school 70s-set thriller it ticks every box, providing excitement and tension in spite of its somewhat slow and melancholic style.