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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

10/10

Stars: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Kathy Burke, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Dencik, Stephen Graham, Ciarán Hinds, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Simon McBurney,
Mark Strong

Director: Thomas Alfredson

Le Carré’s classic Cold War espionage thriller is quintessentially British both in subject and in tone. So, naturally, the finance comes from Europe and the director is Swedish.

Fortunately the casting reflects the Best of British, headed by Oldman who gives the performance of his career playing George Smiley, the dismissed MI6 operative who is brought back into service by former MI6 head Hurt to track down the mole who is leaking secrets to the Soviets. It says much for Oldman’s often silent, perfectly buttoned-up Smiley that his low-key performance has every bit as much impact as Alec Guinness’ celebrated characterization in the legendary 1982 BBC television series.

Director Alfredson never puts a frame wrong, creating a mesmerising spy story without ever having to resort to James Bond-style action, chases, guns, gadgets and willing women or showing off with any unnecessary auteuristic tropes. Indeed, here Burke’s memorable cameo carries more dramatic impact than any number of 007’s nubile semi-clad babes.

Oldman, joined by junior Cumberbatch sporting his trademark upper-class public schoolboy smirk, is faced with a well-cast collection of credible, sharply characterised suspects – Firth, Jones, Hinds and Dencik – as well as Oldman himself to choose from as Alfredsen, with excellent pacing and the considerable benefit of Hoyte Van Hoytema’s atmospheric cinematography, evocative production design (Maria Djurkovic) and a strong score (Alberto Iglesias) transforms the detailed screen adaptation (Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan) in a film that must surely qualify as one of the best – if not the best – of the year.

Le Carre, who is one of the producers and appears briefly on screen at a Christmas party, should be really pleased with the entire cast, rounded out by Strong and Hardy. There are no bad performances and Alfredson confirms his ability to create powerful atmosphere and suspense without resorting to cliché or melodrama, a talent he displayed in the Swedish shocker
Let the Right One In which was drained of blood and turned into rubbish by the recently (not quite?) revived Hammer Films.

(Incidentally, on screen there are no commas separating Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)

Alan Frank

France/UK/Germany 2011. UK Distributor: StudioCanal. Fujicolor.
127 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 17 Sep 2011