Tuesday, April 10, 2012

From Novel To TV Mini-Series To Film: John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Although I've linked to several reviews and pieces about the film adaptation of John le Carre's classic espionage novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy over the past year, I've only recently watched the film on Comcast Cable.

If I had not read the le Carre 1974 novel or watched the 1979 TV mini-series that featured Alex Guinness as George Smiley, I might have liked the film more. But I have read the novel (twice) and I've watched the mini-series (twice).

I liked the 1970s look of the film, especially the British intelligence headquarters that le Carre called the "Circus." (Which stands for Cambridge Circus in London, where the headquarters is located). But what was with that awful wallpaper in Control's office?

Gary Oldman is a fine actor, but I heard Alex Guinness in his slow and deliberate voice and other than the glasses, he looks nothing like le Carre's short and fat George Smiley.

Oldman and the other actors in the film are fine and I thought Tom Hardy was a standout, but I much prefer the gang from the mini-series.

And two things in the film truly bothered me.

One, Smiley tells Peter Guillam, his young assistant, that Americans tortured the Soviet agent Karla by pulling out his finger nails.

Nonsense. American and Soviet intelligence officers did not torture or kill each other in the Cold War.  American officers, however, were tortured and killed by Soviet proxies like the Viet Cong and Mideast terrorists.

The second thing that bothered me was making Peter Guillam gay in the film. Why? What was the point?

Responding to commentators that have favorably compared the cerebral George Smiley to the man of action James Bond, I've noted that le Carre's own Peter Guillam, a rough and tumble guy and the leader of the Scalp-Hunters, was a James Bond-like character.

In fact, Michael Jayston, the fine actor who portrayed Guilliam in the mini-series, was once considered for the role of Bond. Jayston later provided the voice for Bond in the BBC Radio adaptation of Fleming's novel You Only Live Twice 

Due to the success of the film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Gary Oldman is hoping to portray Smiley again in the remake of Smiley's People.

This novel, the third in le Carre's great Karla trilogy, was made into a mini-series in 1982 and aired on BBC TV. The TV producers skipped the second novel, The Honorable Schoolboy, and it looks like the film producers may as well.

Pity, as The Honorable Schoolboy is a fine spy thriller, despite the awful title, and a good follow up to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. One of the many things I liked about the novel was that it took place in Southeast Asia, where I once served in the U.S. Navy.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the film, was interesting and well done, but I much prefer the mini-series with Alex Guinness. I plan to get hold of the mini-series and watch it again for the third time since the 1970s.      

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