Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The book is excellent and so is the movie, which glosses over the very small parts where John le Carre bemoans (through his characters, principally his villain, thereby never actually betraying the thought incontrovertibly as his own) the passing of Empire into history, at least for the Brits. George Smiley is an excellent character, I can’t say as much for the rest in the movie but they all rather shine in the book. Principally both are brilliant at evoking the atmosphere of the age, the “Great Game” and these quite human gentleman-spies. There were descriptions of the movie as principally being “long lingering shots of manila folders being passed from hand to hand” and while it is rather slow, you might prefer to use the word sedate. In any case it is hardly devoid of action and I found the plot quite thrilling, even if a lot of the really interesting parts happen inside the character’s heads. Avoid too much context or moralising “outside the box” while reading (not much chance of it during the movie), even though moralizing within it is apparently the chief draw for many of its fans.

I watched the movie first and then read the book (and then was inspired to start on a list of le Carre’s other major spy novels; so far my expectations have been fulfilled) but for any readers of mine who wish to go about it the proper way here is a suggestion: first, read the book at whatever pace you normally employ. Then either alone or with a quiet friend or significant other- someone you are comfortable with and do not need to be careful around or impress- watch the movie with either a steaming cup of tea or a warm alcoholic beverage (I recommend ginger tea with dark rum, as a matter of fact) in a slightly-too-cold room under a blanket. Expect a slow but steady pace, watch out for the scenery, and you will be pleasantly surprised. Go in expecting early James Bond and, well, you’ll still be surprised.

I should probably provide more of an introduction for the work itself but I will outsource that to Wikipedia:

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a 1974 spy novel by British author John le Carré, featuring George Smiley. Smiley is a middle-aged, taciturn, perspicaciousintelligence expert who has been forced to retire. He is recalled to hunt down a Soviet mole in the “Circus”, the highest echelon of the British Secret Intelligence Service. In keeping with le Carré’s work, the narrative begins in medias res with the repatriation of a captured British spy. The background is supplied during the book through a series of flashbacks.


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a 2011 Anglo-French espionage film directed by Tomas Alfredson, from a screenplay written by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan based on the 1974 novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré. The film stars Gary Oldman as George Smiley, and co-stars Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciarán Hinds. Set in London in the early 1970s, the story follows the hunt for a Soviet double agent at the top of the British secret service.

The film was produced through the British company Working Title Films and financed by France’s StudioCanal. It premiered in competition at the 68th Venice International Film Festival. The film was a critical and commercial success and was the highest-grossing film at the British box office for three consecutive weeks. It received three Academy Award nominations including a Best Actornomination for Oldman.


5 thoughts on “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

  1. I liked “the ginger tea with dark rum” part as much as the rest of the preparation of ambiance for the movie. But I would trust only my eyes to assess a movie. I have recently taken such an attitude so that my judgement is not alloyed by someone else’s opinion. That I would watch the movie is certain. Once the movie is done I will come back, read this more carefully and agree/disagree with you.

    P.S. Completely meant as a joke: Yes, I am not gonna watch this movie!

    • I read “The Spy Who Came in From The Cold” and now I’m on “The Honourable Schoolboy”. Both were/are pleasant. Perhaps it takes a certain inclination towards spy-novels, though. I used to rather enjoy them back in high school.

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