Magazine article The Spectator

Marvel of Compression

Magazine article The Spectator

Marvel of Compression

Article excerpt

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

15, Nationwide

This adaptation of John le Carre's 1974 novel is so beautifully executed and so visually absorbing and so atmospherically hypnotic that I wonder this: would it have been awfully greedy to have hoped to have wholly understood it, too? I thought the plotting might be an issue - what do I know about spying? Me, who is nervous travelling beyond Brent Cross? Me, who has never broken down in Budapest, spouting all I know about Moscow? - so I took my father to the screening, who is keen on le Carre, and he was able to debrief me. Although, you know what? It kind of didn't matter, and I kind of didn't care. I was transfixed by every frame anyhow.

It's not where the plot is going, but what it is doing to its characters, as they negotiate the quagmire of loyalty and betrayal in a world where no one can be trusted. You can't love a film like this. It is much too bleak and chilly. But admire it? God, yes.

As for my father and his debriefing abilities, he is available to rent by the hour but wants you to know he's not cheap, likes a nap after lunch and won't eat yoghurt.

(Should you require him, phone and ask for 'Denis' which would be his codename if only it weren't his real name. Alternatively, wait on Battersea Bridge until you get the nod from one of ours, although do watch out, as it could just as easily be one of theirs. ) This stars Gary Oldman as George Smiley. As I am new to Smiley as a character - I've never read the books; I didn't see Alec Guinness in the BBC TV series - I can only say that, here, he seems isolated and desolate, like a man who has seen too much of life and is bleached of all proper colour, as is the film. This is almost entirely shot in Bakelite browns teamed with the icier end of the Farrow & Ball paint chart, so much so that when Smiley passes a grocery shop displaying oranges, those oranges seem too shockingly vivid. You will flinch, just as you will spend most of the film flinching. There is no pounding soundtrack. There are no car chases, high-speed or otherwise. Yet everything throbs with trepidation and menace. A clock ticking. The crunch of buttered toast.

A fountain pen replaced on a desk. They all somehow set you on edge and keep you there. …

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