Film Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

(Read this in my publication In Retrospect – Issue 2 and on BritScene)


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief.

This month has got many film critics talking about Gary Oldman and, with the release of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy this month, it’s not hard to see why. Alongside Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Hurt and Tom Hardy, this film adaptation, directed by Tomas Alfredson, is a traditional British spy thriller based on the novel written by John le Carré in 1974.

Set in London in the 1970s, when the grey days of the Cold War have left the Secret Intelligence Service in a state of flux, a botched job, resulting in the shooting of agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), exposes the Circus (headquarters) to criticism. Control (John Hurt) and agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) are forced into retirement. However, when a tip-off from the apparently rogue agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) suggests that a Russian mole has infiltrated the Circus, Smiley is given the task of identifying the mole and recruits senior agent Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) to help him.

The suspects are fellow agents Percy Alleline – Tinker (Toby Jones), Bill Haydon – Tailor (Colin Firth), Roy Bland – Soldier (Ciarán Hinds) and Toby Esterhase – Poor Man (David Dencik), who have formed a group after upholding a status from supposedly receiving high-grade Soviet intelligence material, code-named Witchcraft. Smiley and Peter begin to question whether this is a cover-up for the mole to be passing on secrets and set up a trap at their safe-house to capture him.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a brilliant combination of actors who all play their roles incredibly. Oldman’s character is very admirable but, as a downfall, he often lacks emotion. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although some scenes you feel that there should be more anger coming from his character, or at least some form of reaction from him, as Smiley suppresses his feelings, holding himself back with sheer determination. Unfortunately, this doesn’t provoke much of a reaction back from the audience, but it’s very hard to not enjoy his performance at the same time. Despite Oldman receiving the Oscar nomination for his role, it is Hardy and Cumberbatch who, in my opinion, excel throughout and really stand out from their previous roles. With Strong and Firth both putting in good performances as well, the combination of great actors and characters makes it a good remake of the TV classic, despite its minor flaws.

Whilst the film isn’t a typical action-filled thriller that has everything going on at once, it is a slow-paced, traditional and gripping recreation of the novel it is based on and the seven-part BBC series that it inspired. In its gloomy time setting and saddening atmosphere, it is still a very powerful portrayal of the classic spy character that is not often drawn on in a spy film. Here, the film doesn’t need action or explosions to impress the viewer; whilst what’s happening on screen isn’t soaked in high-budget special effects, it is certainly enough to keep you enticed, and is sure to even pull a heart-string or two.

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