Friday, September 6, 2013

You Don't Have to Shout

The other night I watched Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on TV for the umpteenth time. I'd seen it on the big screen too, but every time it comes up on the small one I can't resist.

I suspect some people might find this film too sedate, especially for a spy thriller. It's definitely no James Bond—no car chases, explosions, and very little nudity.  I, however, love the subtlety—layers upon delicate layers of backstory and drama. Outwardly the film is about finding the mole at the top of the British secret Service (the "Circus"). But it's really about men who live secret lives and sacrifice everything for the job.

In best British tradition, emotions are suppressed, but they are there, in abundance, churning under the surface. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is full of troubled relationships. The main character George Smiley (played by Gary Oldman) has marriage troubles, his wife, Anne, has left him, again. If you take only his words in consideration you'd think he's unaffected by it, but the depth of his feelings are expressed in nonverbal means. The most telling is probably at the end of the film—she has returned and we see only her back and legs through the kitchen door. Smiley notices her just as we do, and he stops dead for a second and reaches for the balustrade. Interestingly, we never once see her face in the whole movie.

There are other dramas as well. Another agent, Peter Guillam, (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a gay man who has to give up his lover for the job. He watches wordlessly as the other man packs, ask for explanation, then breaks down crying when finally alone. It happens quick and the camera stays in neutral distance. If you blink you might miss it.

And there is the charming and callous Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) and Jim Prideaux, (Mark Strong) the man carrying the torch for him.

Most other movies would shout these things at you, but Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy whispers. And that's why I love it so much.


  1. I've only ever seen the TV series starring Alec Guinness. Will have to get around to watching this version at some stage.

  2. I've never seen the TV series but now I'm curious. I'd also like to read the book to see how it's different.

  3. I wonder if they will do a remake of Smiley's People as well?