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As far as I know, neither `Smiley's People', nor its prequel, `Tinker,
Tailor, Soldier, Spy', is available in the US in BBC packaging (the
distributor) so you'll have to use your initiative if you want them. I
acquired my copies of `Smiley's People' and `Tinker, Tailor' through my
video guy, who makes a couple of trips every year to London to shop for
Euro-only products. I then had them re-coded to the U.S. playback
I would urge collectors to definitely acquire both titles. Having both
really gives you something to sink into. Although either title can easily
stand alone, they dovetail beautifully. Only the re-casting of a couple of
principal supporting roles detracts slightly from the otherwise airtight
continuity between the two. If you've read the book, you know the plot. If
you have not read it (admittedly, LeCarré is not for everyone), here's an
Retired British counter-intelligence operative George Smiley (Sir Alec Guinness in a remarkably nuanced performance) becomes aware, through events linked to the murder of a former colleague, that his seemingly invulnerable arch-rival in Soviet counter-intelligence, known to the western intelligence fraternity as `Karla', may have finally exposed an Achilles heel. (Some years earlier, as recounted in the more episodic yet excellent `Tinker, Tailor', Karla nearly destroyed British counter-intelligence, wrecking Smiley's marriage in the process). Going on an initial hunch and a fragment of evidence, turned up in a beautiful sequence reminiscent of a similar scene in Antonioni's `Blow Up', Smiley methodically begins to put the pieces together, despite the fact that almost everyone he knows is advising him to go home and don his robe and slippers. At the same time Karla, realizing that he has probably jeopardized himself by bending his own rigidly-enforced rules, is ruthlessly trying to cover his own tracks. Karla (introduced in a fascinating, wordless performance by Patrick Stewart in `Tinker, Tailor') is no comic book villain but a brilliant, almost monumental adversary who survived Stalin's purges, rising through the labyrinth of Soviet socio-politics to the pinnacle of power.
`Smiley's People' is a tale of revenge. If, as the saying goes, revenge is a dish best served cold, or at least cool, Smiley's is the coolest possible variety, barely visible through a professionalism honed by years in the Cold War trenches. Moving resolutely around or through all obstacles, he eventually collects the evidence needed to secure the support of Sir Saul Enderby, current chief of the revamped, cynical British counter-intelligence service (termed by LeCarré `The Circus'). Barry Foster, the eerily incandescent serial killer in Alfred Hitchcock's `Frenzy', portrays the suave, power-loving Enderby, an arch-bureaucrat with more clout than credibility, whose vanity will not let him begrudge Smiley any acknowledgement of his brilliant and courageous work. Their scene together, in which Enderby tries and fails to push Smiley's buttons, all of which have been hermetically sealed by decades of experience, is a delight. `Smiley's People' operates largely on this sort of intimate, interpersonal level. Some of its greatest pleasures are found in scenes that center on the unflinching Smiley and his elegant, slightly honest, former master of spy-tradecraft, Toby Esterhaze (Bernard Hepton). Smiley recruited Esterhaze from the Vienna gutters at the end of the World War II and to open a line of fire on Karla, reactivates him to compromise and turn one of the Soviet spymaster's European operatives. (If Toby had been Nixon's Chief of Staff during the Watergate crisis, the Nixster would probably still be president.) The initial meeting between Smiley and Esterhaze, their first since a rather unfriendly encounter in `Tinker, Tailor', is masterful, almost poetic.
Even in its somewhat streamlined, screen version `Smiley's People' is complex and dimensional, requiring full attention at all times. Crucial elements of dialog dart past while you blink (you'll become an adept rewinder). LeCarré's novel is screened as a series of beautifully-wrought set pieces; for the most part quiet interactions between detailed, believable characters who are driven by equally believable motivations, from the petty through the desperate. The settings jump from London to Paris to Hamburg to Berne and back as Smiley whittles each lead to heartwood. Not a shot is fired during the entire film, but the background menace against which Smiley operates is unmistakable. The very lethal Karla has known, almost from the start, that he has acquired a bogey. But he does not know that it is Smiley, whom Karla thought retired and out of the game, who is now on his tail. Smiley must work quickly and precisely while staying hidden, knowing that if he is discovered, he and anyone with whom he is currently associated, will almost certainly be eliminated. Karla's nickname in the west is `The Sandman'. Anyone, anywhere, who has ever threatened him has been permanently put to sleep. Karla will be especially responsive to Smiley, for it was he who unmasked Karla's highly-placed and destructive double-agent in `Tinker, Tailor', through whom Karla had been manipulating the entire western intelligence community for decades.
As events proceed in their intimate, quiet way, the suspense builds like layers of paint, one thin coat at a time. It's hard to resist, even after numerous screenings. Although `Smiley's People' is a serious thriller, in some places exhibiting an almost documentary realism, it is also poignant. Many of its characters, some decent, some less so, their lives all but car-baled by Stalinism, are now living out tenuous gray-scale existences, still under the cornice of Soviet power, despite the fact that they now reside in the west. The restrained, mournful score further accentuates the film's underlying emotionality. The acting is superb down through the smallest role. Even the editing, skillfully introducing and interweaving the corollary plot lines is first-rate. I screen `Smiley's People' every few months and never tire of it. If you appreciate LeCarré, espionage-based drama, or are simply looking for a temporary antidote to rampant ageism, you should see or collect this masterpiece. It's a gourmet meal for the mind.
The recent death of Sir Alec Guinness prompted me to wonder which role in
his very long career he should be remembered for, and I believe it should be
his portrayal of John Le Carre's master spy and inadequate man, George
"Smiley's People", like the earlier "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy", derives much of its fascination from its mundane realism. Le Carre, unlike many espionage authors, really knew the setting, the techniques and many of the people. The TV series follows every detail of the novel and cannot be faulted on any grounds of atmosphere.
The cast list has a plethora of famous names, some so heavily made up and convincingly acted as to be unrecognisable as themselves. Guinness's gelid tones and painstakingly slow gestures manage to put them all, even the bubbly Bernard Hepton and Beryl Reid, in the shade. Especially in the final scene, where all Smiley's friends and supporters are practically dancing with joy, Guinness's studied absence of emotion dominates.
Few corporations other than the BBC would dare drag a 200-page novel out to over 4 hours of TV time, and very few actors other than Sir Alec Guinness could have held the viewer fascinated throughout such a marathon.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
So I asked the friend years ago who was telling me that it was going to be
repeated on TV.
He immediately smacked his lips enthusiastically and pronounced, "Better!" Of course I had to watch, if only to see how that were possible.
I think he was right. The plot is equally complex, the atmosphere similarly tinged with melancholy, and the acting just as superb. What makes it better, perhaps, is that the ending is more satisfying and the principal characters-- even some of those on "the other side"-- are likeable. Unlike Tinker Tailor, where the entire circus was portrayed as a snake pit of cut-throat careerists all very full of themselves, one cares about the characters in this story. Almost all of them are acting at least in part out of loyalty, friendship, and love. The reasons for the conflicts are Kafkaesque, such that it is difficult to place the blame on anyone in particular. This situation makes the moral ambiguity and wistfulness for which LeCarre is famous even more poignant in this case.
The ending is triumphant not so much because Smiley "won", as a colleague congratulates him jubilantly. His only response to this is a pensive and resigned, "yes, I suppose I did." What pleased him more, I think, was that he was engaged in a mission of charity towards his old Moscow Center adversary-- saving him and someone dear to him from themselves.
The merits of Alec Guinness's Smiley are familiar to anyone who has
seen this wonderful BBC adaptation of LeCarré's great 'Karla' trilogy
of books..well, two of the books anyway. Sadly they skipped over 'The
Honourable Schoolboy' arguably the most exciting of the three.
Both 'Tinker Tailor' and 'Smiley's People' have their casting mishaps but nothing that detracts in any important way. I found Eileen Atkins' Ostrakova to be wildly miscast, physically, but masterfully acted, so she gets a pass. Michael Byrne's Guillam is an improvement over his predecessor in 'Tinker Tailor' but his part is so small that it hardly registers. Beryl Reid's scene as Connie Sachs is longer than her scene in 'Tinker Tailor' but still woefully short of the involved and fascinating scene in the book. It is in regards to Sachs and Jerry Westerby that I deeply regret the BBC not making 'The Honourable Schoolboy.' Reid would have been fabulous in that role, though still not nearly fat or tall enough to wear the original Connie's shoes.
Generally the actors are superb. There is an especially moving and unforgettable performance from Tulle Silberg as Alexandra Ostrakova. Her scene with Smiley is deeply touching and it is easy to understand why Smiley does what he does in the end. I won't say any more to avoid a spoiler.
'Smiley's People' is not as riveting as 'Tinker Tailor' I think because I found the first mini- series, focusing on the inner workings of the Circus, to be far more interesting than the foreign "outside" locations in 'Smiley's People.' But that's just me. I still love this film and watch it often.
Don't miss the Smiley series! The BBC will never make anything like it again, on the evidence of the mediocre bilge they've been catting up in recent years.
Judging by the other comments on this site, this episode of the 2
Smiley-BBC productions seems to disappoint some of it's fans. In my
opinion, this is only slightly less praiseworthy than Tinker, Tailor
and that is due to the previous high standard of its predecessor.
SP has excellent character parts, particularly Bernard Hepton as Tobe Esterhazy, Beryl Reid, and even the maligned Barry Foster as Saul Enderby. (His outstanding scene with Guinness on the roof after the consideration of Smiley's evidence about Karla is outrageously deleted in the Acorn DVD version. It's one one of my favorite moments.) Everyone in this production is outstanding and equal to their forbears in TTSS - almost all of whom are them! The fact that virtually every key person is back reprising their roles says a lot about the quality of this production. Mario Adorf plays another vivid character, Claus Kretschmar. Dammit, every actor is interesting, alive and vivid in this story.
I guess the discrepancy is due to the fact that this is an entirely different sort of thing than TTSS. This also is a detective story but with a different dynamic. Nonetheless the same qualities make this must viewing for every Smiley fan. SP has excellent character parts all of whom add texture to the slow unfolding of this tale. And that is what is good about it - the story unfolds with pieces coming to light after each of Smiley's interviews. (To anyone who has never seen the Smiley stories this might sound like a recipe for boredom, but in fact it is just the opposite. So yeah, you have to pay attention.) Now for the bad news.
The Acorn DVD is a travesty.
With about forty minutes cut and scenes shortened and juxtaposed, this is NOT the Smiley's People that appeared on PBS and the BBC videotape. While the story can be followed and enjoyed to a point, there are moments when the cutting is abrupt and the story jumps with the viewer wondering why some things are happening and 'did I miss something?'. The answer is yes. For example, Villem's part is cut and his reason for going to Hamburg are not explained. The previously mentioned Enderby-Smiley scene is nowhere to be found.
I don't know where or why this particular 'version' of Smiley's People was found or used but it as an extreme disappointment to me and to viewers who are coming new to this film. No wonder it gets such mixed reviews.
With the story stretched to 3 DVDs surely someone should have noticed.
A great film, a very disappointing DVD.
Definitely the best film version of the books. More artful than Tinker
Tailor and much more intense. The characters are more developed,
The end of the movie had me on the edge of my seat, the suspense was
If you enjoy spy films, this is absolutely essential viewing.
If only they made films this great all the time! (now available on DVD)
I won't choose between TINKER TAILOR and SMILEY'S PEOPLE. They're both
first-rate. PEOPLE isn't as dark (even though bodies litter the
landscape), but it builds to great tension even on repeat viewings.
Master-class performances by Michael Lonsdale (Grigoriev), Michael Gough (Mikhel), Eileen Atkins (Ostrakova), and even the unknown Stephen Riddle (Mostyn). Paul Herzberg's good simple Villem is a treat, and Beryl Reid as Connie Sachs does an even better job than in TINKER, showing Connie's mind a little further gone. Even the bit parts knock it out of the park with authenticity.
I was really glad that the Toby Esterhase character was finally given his linguistic head in this series. His Hungarian-English popcorn speech ("Fantastic! George! All your life!") is brought to life by Bernard Hepton, reprising his role from TINKER and showing himself equal to the novels' original dialog.
The SMILEY'S PEOPLE Special Features DVD has a different interview with John le Carré than the TINKER one does. Be sure to watch them both.
"Smiley's People" is the sequel miniseries to "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier,
Spy" and is also based on a novel by John le Carré. In this series,
George Smiley investigates the murder of a Russian general formerly
passing information to the Circus which puts him on the trail of his
old rival, Soviet spy master "Karla".
As with "Tinker, Tailor", Alec Guinness is perfect in a subtle performance as George Smiley. The returning performers and new performances are solid as well.
"Smiley's People" is at least up to the high standard of "Tinker, Tailor" and perhaps better. Whereas in "Tinker, Tailor" Smiley investigated within a limited circle of people and limited area, in this series the locations and characters are more varied. In this way the plot of "Smiley's People" requires more focus to understand the connections between characters, which I enjoyed.
As with "Tinker, Tailor", the style consisted mostly of Smiley conversing with people for information, so this series is also not appropriate for those looking for a fast-paced James Bond type spy thriller, but enjoyable for those looking for a deliberately paced spy film. It is worth noting the final scene, which is impressively tense and provides an interesting and appropriate conclusion.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The recent release of Smiley's People on Acorn Video DVD contains the
sex club scene in Germany deleted in the U.S. broadcast but sadly
deletes or cuts too many of the scenes that build suspense in this
After Smiley retrieves the negative in Hampstead Heath he is shown purchasing the chemicals to develop the negative and subsequently developing it in his flat. Deleting this progression during this tense period when Smiley is fearing for his life, takes away from seeing Smiley at his best -- still capable of slow methodical work, even under life threatening pressure.
In Switzerland, the scenes establishing Gregorev's wife as a witch are truncated. In particular, the scene where she is seen hitting two cars in order to park is reduced to one frame at the end of the scene. This missing scene explains the applause when gregorev finally tells off his wife during the interrogation and Smiley offers him refuge in the West "with or without his wife".
The scene where Smiley goes to meet Lady Anne at her uncle's estate deletes Smiley meeting the aged uncle whom he was always fond of. Thus, we are denied the realization that Smiley, in totally ending it with Anne is suffering some loss too.
Acorn Video in cutting these and other scenes in their DVD release of Smiley's People has in effect taken away from the brilliance of this complex masterpiece, as the Acorn DVD will probably be established as the definitive work. A pity.
I have to say I loved this and it got better as the story unravelled. This was something that is all too rare now - a story which takes it's time and teats the viewer as an adult (a great antidote for all the Hollywood contrived happy endings that make me bilious just to think of them). I love the fact that we didn't have a clue what was going on til almost half weay through, I loved the fact that we didn't need every small detail explained ad nausium, but most of all I loved the fact you had to pay attention, listen and think for a change. Guinness was his usual flawless self and wonderfully under-stated, but I must admit to getting twinges of Deadringers in the car showroom every now and then. And to those who did not understand Barry Fosters over-the-top portrayal of Saul Enderby - that was the point he was meant to be a thoroughly tasteless David Brent character, right down to his Eton tie.
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