Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Once again, praise be to Twitter. If any of you have been following me there for a while, you may be familiar with the occasional hootenanny that is Ryan And Clare’s Live-Tweet Extravaganza. This really is as awesome as those capital letters suggest, consisting as it does of me (Ryan) and my friend (Clare) watching the same movie at the same time and commenting on it for the amusement of, well, mostly ourselves. Although separated by geography and more years than I care to mention, we share a love for the movies and an overriding desire to blather about them to all and sundry. This preamble is really just a roundabout way of introducing her first contribution to this site. And yes, there will be more. So without any further ado…

Can I Be The Spy?

Highly anticipated thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy arrived in cinemas last week, and has since then topped the box office and received rave reviews. Based on John Le Carré’s novel, it follows the story of semi-retired spy George Smiley (the much-lauded Gary Oldman) being forced back into work to investigate reports of a Soviet spy within MI6. Directed by Let The Right One In‘s Thomas Alfredson and arguably one of 2011’s best films, Tinker transfixes from the second Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) appears on-screen. Strong’s performance as Prideaux is an exceptionally powerful opener, and sets the tone and pace perfectly.

I really want that wallpaper...

Shot against a background of grey and neutral colours, the film manages to portray both the physical austerity of the times and the emotional reserve and distance of those involved in MI6. There’s a very British air of reserve throughout, and this coupled with the laconic dialogue makes Tinker one of the most cerebral spy films of recent years. The historical accuracy of the film is second to none, with near-perfect costume design from Jacqueline Durran, best known for her work on Atonement and Pride And Prejudice. The feminist graffiti in the background of a shot is a delightful contrast to the attitudes towards women portrayed in the MI6 office. What Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does well is take the smallest action and make it significant. A scene featuring Colin Firth and Oldman cuts to Firth’s feet, showing them sliding uneasily into his brown suede brogues. A simple enough movement, but in the context of the scene, ever so revealing. It’s almost a shame when the film cuts to foreign climes, as this level of detail sometimes feels a bit lost.

Throughout the film, violence is portrayed starkly with no accompanying judgement from the director. There are no obvious ‘good’ or ‘bad’ guys in Tinker, where everyone has the potential to be the mole. It makes a sharp and welcome contrast with other spy films of recent years, where morality is often so clear-cut that it makes it impossible to fully engage with the characters. The complete opposite is true in Tinker – one can sympathise with all of the characters, be it the irascible Scot Percy Alleline (played by the wonderful Toby Jones with just a hint of insecurity) or David Dencik’s aloof yet cowardly Toby Esterhase.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy really is a masterclass in the sort of understated acting that serious British cinema is famed for. Oldman’s George Smiley is quietly magnificent in his shapeless coat and large glasses. It’s an incredibly intense performance that manages to convey so much with so little dialogue. He has created a harder, more menacing Smiley than Alec Guinness in the BBC television series from the 70s, in keeping with the tone of the film. His boss, Control (played by John Hurt), is a small yet vital role, and Hurt scene-steals effortlessly.

Stay calm, ladies.

Younger stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy inject some vitality in the proceedings, while Ciarán Hinds and Kathy Burke turn in solid performances. Colin Firth’s portrayal of Bill Haydon contains just the right amount of arrogance and bluster, though at times it can feel a little over-egged. However, his and Strong’s intensity at the gripping close of the film more than makes up for this.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy may be dismissed by some as not being a Bond or Jason Bourne film. It lacks the pyrotechnics and girls for that, preferring to focus on details and dialogue. But this is darkly intriguing film that will capture the minds of those who see it, and will no doubt be picking up plaudits on both sides of the Atlantic during next year’s awards season.

Clare Williams

(Clare’s Twitter id is @the3rdgirl, and she has her own WordPress site here)