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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 

TV-14 | | Drama, Thriller | TV Mini-Series (1979)
In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced out of semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6's echelons.
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1  
1979  
Top Rated TV #158 | Nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 4 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast

Series cast summary:
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 Ricki Tarr 5 episodes, 1979
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 Jim Prideaux 4 episodes, 1979
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 Percy Alleline 4 episodes, 1979
Alec Sabin ...
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Duncan Jones ...
Daniel Beecher ...
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 Connie Sachs 2 episodes, 1979
John Wells ...
 Headmaster 2 episodes, 1979
Frank Compton ...
Frank Moorey ...
 Lauda Strickland 2 episodes, 1979
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Storyline

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 <jlvogel@comcast.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

SIR ALEC GUINNESS as George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy See more »

Genres:

Drama | Thriller

Certificate:

TV-14 | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

| |

Release Date:

29 September 1980 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

König, Dame, As, Spion  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (7 parts)

Sound Mix:

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

During production, Alec Guinness complained that George Smiley's characteristic habit, polishing his glasses with the fat end of his tie, could not be done naturally because London's cold weather resulted in Smiley wearing three-piece suits. Thus a handkerchief was used as a substitute. John le Carré's sequel novel 'Smiley's People', mentioned a statement referring to this issue: "From long habit, Smiley had taken off his spectacles and was absently polishing them on the fat end of his tie, even though he had to delve for it among the folds of his tweed coat." See more »

Goofs

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 »

Quotes

George Smiley: You heard something about his
[Peter's]
George Smiley: murderous assignment in French North Africa, I suppose?
Mendel: Something. Whispers...
George Smiley: Peter was overmatched and he lost. His agents were hanged. No one recovers entirely from that sort of thing. That is, I wouldn't trust a man who did.
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Crazy Credits

In the closing credits, the church prayer "Nunc dimittis" is played. This prayer describes Simeon's wish to depart this world after having witnessed the newborn Messiah. In context, this theme is used to bid farewell to the viewer. See more »


Soundtracks

Nunc Dimittis
Composed by Geoffrey Burgon
Sung by Paul Phoenix and the Boys of the St Paul's Cathedral Choir
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User Reviews

 
A stunning argument for TV drama.
7 December 2000 | by See all my reviews

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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