'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'
(Alec Guinness, Ian Richardson, Terence Rigby, Michael Jayston, Hywel Bennett, et al / 3-Disc DVD / NR / (1979) 2011 / Acorn Media)
Overview: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy stars Alec Guinness as George Smiley, John le Carré's familiar, aging British Intelligence agent, called out of retirement to discover the identity of the high-ranking Russian mole who has burrowed deep into "the Circus" - codename for the British secret service.
DVD Verdict: By now, even with its recent re-release on DVD and its 2011 movie update in UK cinemas, you should all know that this slow-burning, complicated, but yet ultimately rewarding BBC series is just simply breathtakingly indepth, from start to finish.
Indeed, from its opening moments this tale is spun with the utmost care and consideration to detail. Never choosing to run when it can walk, to ramble through and over the facts before it has time to carefully reveal them, it plays out slowly, but methodically.
We open with a camera that pans over a late '70s London scene. Then, a grey-suited man in a red shirt walks into a government office conference room, opens his folder, takes a seat at a table. He is joined by another less-than-prompt, heavily smoking and coughing employee, and yet another suited man takes another seat at the table. And then in walks the always-brilliant Ian Richardson (Bill Haydon) to take his seat in front of him. A cup of tea in his hands, saucer over its top to prevent spillage, he is the most relaxed one of the bunch - and yet holds all the secrets (even if he isn't the head of the table!)
Dramatized by Arthur Hopcroft and directed by John Irvin, 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' perfectly captures John Le Carré's own insight into the shady underworld of spies and the political climate during the cold war.
OK, and for those that honestly don't know, the synopsis is that George Smiley has been retired for about a year when he finds a friend from the circus, his old outfit in British Intelligence sitting in his living room. He is taken to the home of an advisor to the Prime Minister on intelligence matters where he finds evidence that one of the men in the senior ranks of his old agency is a Russian spy.
Smiley is asked to find him, without official access to any of the files in the Circus or letting on that anyone is under suspicion. With only a few old friends, his own powers of deduction, and secrecy as weapons, Smiley must unearth the spy who turned him out of the Circus.
Sure, in truth it's an old plot re: Spy vs. Spy, but perhaps never before has it been done so realistically - and memorably. The scene early on where Control and Jim Prideaux (Ian Bannen) are talking about code words and Control brings up the nursery rhyme, Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor is just so profound to the plot and the film itself. He asks Jim to finish it (Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief) to which Control them points out names and faces on a cork board = one is a Tinker, one a Tailor, one a Soldier, but the other two are not what you expect, given the title of the series: for one is the Poor Man, and the last, George Smiley (Sir Alec Guinness) the Beggar Man!
But Control asks Jim for his own code word, just in case things go wrong in Prague, and played out in an old, dark house. But, we don't hear it at that moment, of course, and move quickly instead to Jim in Prague overlooking the house he has to infiltrate. Combined with some excellent backing track orchestral music, the scene is made truly edge-of-the-seat stuff.
But of course there were other great stars taking on roles in this six-part TV series. The aforementioned Richardson (Bleak House) has a large part, while Patrick Stewart (Star Trek) steps in for a cameo. Albeit a non-speaking role! Other greats are in-between these two men providing mastery for this Cold War tale of espionage and political mayhem.
And yes, the Brit slang and enunciation make a few lines difficult to figure out, but that's what the Special Feature of Glossary of Main Characters and Terms is there for! Works a treat, trust me! But, if you don't wish to go that route, one can always replay the section in question. Replays are handy for figuring out the plot anyway!
In closing, and in truth (again), 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' is still great, wholehearted fiction and a good film - and a far better one than its silly sequel, 'Smiley's People,' sorry! This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.66:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Exclusive Interview with John le Carré
Glossary of Main Characters and Terms
John le Carré Biography and Booklist