Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

After a forced retirement, British Intelligence agent, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), is called back by his former employers to flush out a mole supplying secrets to the Russians. Taking a young protege under his wing (Benedict Cumberbatch), Smiley begins to put the pieces together knowing that when people have something to hide it probably means they’re just doing their job right.

For those unaccustomed to John le Carré’s work, they may be somewhat taken aback by this spy movie. If James Bond is martinis, fast cars and hot nights in Vegas, George Smiley is weak tea, crumbly digestives and wet weekends in Margate. This is no singular narrative where the audience is only left to guess how the spy is going to use all his gadgets before Madonna warbles over the end credits. This is a multi-layered affair consisting of monologues and flashbacks, as Smiley moves ‘tween the main suspects.

Starring pretty much every British actor from the 30 years, it goes without saying that there are some solid performances to be found within its 2 hour running time. Oldman is almost unrecognisable as Smiley. Sporting a face that never cracks anything stronger than a frown, his silences are as powerful as his speeches. Watch as he describes the mysterious Soviet spymaster, Karla; starting off slowly, he gains momentum as his former piss and vinegar bubbles back to the surface. It’s a masterful scene. A special mention must also go to Cumberbatch who delivers an excellent performance, capped off with one of my favourite scenes. Forced to break up with his partner, for fear their life is in danger, it’s almost wordless and it’s brilliant. Which is all a lot more than can be said for Colin Firth and Tom Hardy, who feel like stunt casting more than anything else.

It can be argued that the final reveal is a bit of a damp squib, but within the context of the pringle jumper, why shout when you can whisper world we’re in, it works. The ending was never going to entail Oldman leaping breathlessly through plate glass and shagging the secretary, whilst setting fire to a ruskie.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a movie that requires you to pay attention and not wonder when Q is going to enter the arena. If you give it your time, you’ll be rewarded with a taut drama that will linger long after.



  1. This reminds me of a Jimmy Carr line (sorry). When asked what he had had to do when he was allegedly interviewed for MI6 (Would I Lie To You, BBC) he replied; “I had to fuck a girl in a speedboat”.

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