Called out of retirement to settle the affairs of a friend, Smiley finds his old organization, the Circus, so overwhelmed by political considerations that it doesn't want to know what ... See full summary »
This is the story of Magnus Pym, from his childhood to the end of his career in middle age. As a young man, there is little doubt that his father Rick was the most influential character in ... See full summary »
The mysterious murder of an environmental activist leads her straight-laced father, an Inspector of the local police force, through a haunting revelation of the murkiness of the British ... See full summary »
Taken from the book by John le Carre, George Smiley rallies to the aid of his former intelligence colleague, Ailsa Brimley, to investigate a mysterious letter from a junion master's wife at... See full summary »
David Callan is the top agent/assassin for the Security Service (British counterintelligence), but he is an embittered man who performs his duties "for Queen and country" under duress. This... See full summary »
George Smiley has been retired for about a year when he finds a friend from the Circus, his old outfit in British Intelligence, sitting in his living room. He is taken to the home of an advisor to the Prime Minister on intelligence matters, where he finds evidence that one of the men in the senior ranks of his old agency is a Russian spy. Smiley is asked to find him, without official access to any of the files in the Circus or letting on that anyone is under suspicion. With only a few old friends, his own powers of deduction, and secrecy as weapons, Smiley must unearth the spy who turned him out of the Circus. Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
John le Carré has admitted that the vocabulary used in the novels/series (babysitters, lamplighters, the Circus, the nursery, moles) was made up. He was later amused to discover that real agents had begun to appropriate some of his vocabulary once his espionage stories were published. See more »
Jim Prideaux goes off on his abortive mission to Czechoslovakia at the end of March. Following this scene is a strap-line that says "six months later". That should put the continuing action at the end of September. However we see snow on the roads, and Roddy Martindale saying to George Smiley in the restaurant "... I do hope you're not going to tip him. It's a guinea at Christmas". See more »
[Lacon has arrived late for a conference]
I'm sorry. Traffic. I should've walked.
I think you and Percy between you are contriving to keep me off the streets.
See more »
SPOILER: The closing credits scroll over a scene of Oxford, which is chronologically where the spy was recruited in the story. See more »
Although not as sympathetic or achingly romantic as 'The Russia House', this stunning TV adaptation is the closest the screen has gotten to the singular world of John le Carre. Very few writers actually become so synonymous with their age that we look to their works to find out what a period of history was like. When we think of the Cold War, and, most especially, the shabby bureaucracy of British espionage, it is le Carre we think of.
What le Carre shares with Graham Greene, making him a million miles from the priapic fantasies of James Bond, is in showing how the Cold War literally degraded everyone. Fils like 'Ninotchka' like to show the massive disparity between the dour, repressive, monotonous Soviet Union and the glitteringly superficial, gaily materialist West. Le Carre suggests that both sides of the Iron Curtain are merely of the same coin, at the executive level at least. You expect to see 1980 Czechoslovakia as a run-down, provincial dump; but this film's England reminded me of Svankmajer's 'Alice', as it details a society, a system, an ethic, a code grinding towards inertia, a world becoming increasingly closed in that it can only be jabbed into life by shocks of betrayal.
This England is a pure mirror image of our stereotypes of the East - a system run by chilling, amoral men with perfect manners (the most frightening thing about the narrative is that any one of the suspects could have done it, each one has so lost any kind of basic humanity, never mind idealism, that it is almost irrelevant who the traitor is) gathering together in anonymous meeting rooms, or an endless rondelay of joyless dinners; a world of cramped, impersonal decor, generally sucked in by shadows, so that we can't even be sure it's men we see, or the flickering grin of the Cheshire Cat; a world of men, where one of the three female characters is an absent joke until the last five minutes, another is tortured and murdered by her superiors, and the third is sacked for competence, reduced to scraping money from grinds, a paralysed, blubbing outcast; a drab world where all colour and life has been seeped out, or goes by unnoticed, where jokes are bitter and grim, where the (very Soviet) elevator disrepair signals a wider, fundamental malaise.
If it's fun you want, get 'You Only Live Twice' - the action here is generated from its milieu - dank, meticulous, pedantic, slow, inexorable, unsensational. This is where a 6 hour TV adaptation has the edge on a feature film - cramming a le Carre plot into the latter can make it seem rushed and exciting; this film brings out all its civil-service ingloriousness superbly (although the figure of Karla is a little too SMERSHy for my tastes).
Bill Hayden says you can tell the soul of a nation from its intelligence service, and this film, despite the go-getting yuppie 80s or the success of heritage TV ('Jewel in the Crown', 'Brideshead Revisited') is perhaps the closest representation of a kind of soul, public school, Oxbridge, Whitehall, male. In equating this world with impotence and sterility (Smiley is childless), the material errs in equating homosexuality as the ultimate, literal inversion, a closing in, of minds, spirit etc.
But the metaphor of the betrayed friendship as representative of a wider betrayal is less a corny contrivance than an indication of how fundamentally incestuous this world is. These men slipping in and out of shadows are ghosts, fighting a war that doesn't exist, nitpicking over irrelevant ideological puzzles that have lost all meaning. The 'good' guys are no better than the bad - Peter Guillam, though dogged and loyal, is little more than a thug; Ricky Tarr is new yuppie incarnate in all his cocky repulsiveness.
Smiley, marvellously essayed by Alec Guinness - more obviously sharper than in the book, Hercules cleaning out the Aegean stables - loses even the barest traces of humanity, with vast reserves of calculated sadism and bureaucratic immorality, his thick glasses seeing all the detail and none of the big picture. Smiley needs the rules of the game more than anyone; without them he is left adrift in life, and the stupendous final shot shows how deeply that defeats him.
Unusually for TV, this is a film of rare visual imagination, not in the mistakenly flashy, spuriously 'cinematic' sense beloved of ambitious tyros, but in its exploration of the medium's claustrophobia, as it traps its protagonists, in particular the way the camera's point of view chillingly suggests somebody else looking on, spying on the spies, making everything we see provisional, especially the flashbacks, which elide as much as they reveal.
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