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John LeCarré has been lucky in the adaptations of some of his books on
to film. 'A Murder of Quality', though quite different from 'Tinker
Tailor Soldier Spy' and 'Smiley's People', not to forget 'The Spy Who
Came in From the Cold', is a perfectly crafted murder mystery.
Denholm Elliot's George Smiley does not try to imitate the famous portrayals by Alec Guinness but creates a similarly fascinating character out of LeCarré's most famous creation. Glenda Jackson plays his spinsterish "pal", Ailsa Brimley, a former colleague of Smiley's from The Circus during the war years. She is akin to Connie Sachs, memorably played by the great Beryl Reid in other LeCarré adaptions. Both Ailsa and Connie were in love with George and enraged at his reprobate wife, Ann. This and other LeCarré themes are used in 'A Murder of Quality' to their usual intriguing effects; the inclusion of homosexuality, misogynistic tendencies in some of the male characters and the hint of Smiley's darker, perhaps murderous past.
It is good to see Joss Ackland and Thorley Walters, old hands from earlier LeCarré adaptations. There isn't a weak link in the cast. Christian Bale makes a sexually tantalizing school boy, complete with his "criminal mind" and vulnerable consciousness. Diane Fletcher, the Lady Macbeth-like Mrs Urquehard from 'House of Cards' appears here as the tough dramatic arts mistress, the archetype gorgon, hearty and heartless.
Billie Whitelaw is a poignant mad-woman, Ronald Pickup a wonderfully spineless worm who lives with his "manly" sister, Fiona Walker. Matthew Scurfield is a fascinating police chief, a working grunt with many-faceted depths to his personality.
The cinematography is on the dark and gloomy side, as befits the story and setting. The music is superb, another wonderfully evocative score by the late great Stanley Myers.
This is now available on DVD from Acorn Media and I urge all LeCarré addicts to get it.
Great television like this is extremely rare, and getting scarcer all the time.
I saw this recently and remembered how good English TV drama can be. Denholm Elliot's Smiley is so good that I didn't even feel urged to compare it with Alec Guinness'. They both took the character on so well that in each case it was a very complete performance. They both captured the deceptively calm and inoffensive persona - and the sharp biting anger that seems to come from nowhere. The story is good, the mood and supporting cast are all tops. Some of the answers to the mystery can be picked up early on but who cares? The entire production is so well crafted that it's a pleasure just watching it all roll out scene by scene.
Strongly agree with your own comments, this early Le Carre novel is one of my favourites but this version lacks one thing to make it complete. Denholm Elliott is very good as Smiley but Alec Guinness, for any who saw him in the role in "Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "Smileys People" will understand that he IS George Smiley. The rest of the cast are superb and in answer to that question 'Why can't Americans make Movies like this?" the Answer is that you do! Look for them in odd places, "Chiefs", "Centennial" and so on. The Movie follows the book and only really misses on that strange and quintessentially English feeling of claustrophobia that exists in Public School Towns. The Constant battle between school and town. Both deeming the other to be the outsiders. Pickup is wonderful as D'Arcy. I would love to have seen Ian Cuthbertson as Fielding but well you cant have everything can you? I strongly urge all to view this at least twice, the first time to enjoy and the second time to pick up on all the Le Carre touches. I also urge you to find an old English movie of his "A Call For The Dead" All in all a great production and as stated faithful to the original.
This movie is a fine work of art. Changes to the original story are very scarce and the acting is quite flawless. So is the period feel as well as camera and directing. Denholm Elliot was magnificent as Smiley. "So sad - so few of us left" (Shane Hecht in the novel, for those who have not read it.)
SO I just watched the film version of Jean LaCarre's *A Murder of
Quality*. I liked the way the book ended better. However, it did prove
something I had been saying for a long time: that Gary Oldman made a
TERRIBLE George Smiley. He does not look right and he does not act
right. You see, I'm a HUGE Smioley fan and, like most, I'm a fan from
the books. Smiley is described as a funny little man and a disheveled
Oxford Don. He has great humor about him that masks a great rage, and
his rage is righteous, almost zealous. He is a champion in a battle
between good and evil, and he hates the fact that he is constantly
doing evil in the name of good. Oldman was wrong physically and was
wrong in temperament. Eliot, a great if often overlooked British Actor,
plays that switch between humor and rage perfectly, and he looks like a
funny little Oxford Don. When I read that Elliot played smiley in this
version I knew it would be great, because his turn as Marcus Brody in
the Indiana Jones movies had all of Smiley's humor and the Oxford don
clichés without his cunning or his rage.
In addition to Elliot, the movie has a terrific cast, including Joss Ackland at his sonorous best, Glenda Jackson, and a very young Christian Bale in a pivotal role (this was right before Newsies and a couple years after Henry V). It has that typical made for TV British mystery plodding, and one or two incredibly poor digital mats, but I really liked it.
A murder of an instructors' wife (at a seemingly second rate public school in England) brings out George Smiley. The plot gives the director the chance to bring out the best and the worst of the British class system. All delivered in quick, almost incomprehensible-to-American-ears, English. Very intellectual - very elegant. And Denholm Elliott (as Smiley) was such a superb actor, you wonder how he could live with himself!
This time, it's Denholm Elliot as George Smiley, and the story is "A
Murder of Quality" from 1991, also starring Glenda Jackson, Joss
Ackland, Billie Whitelaw, and a 17-year-old Christian Bale.
Smiley is asked by a former colleague (Jackson) to look into a strange letter sent to her by a junior master's wife at a boy's school, Carne. When Smiley calls the school, he learns that the woman has been murdered. Her husband is a suspect.
Smiley travels to the school and works with the police. He discovers that plenty of people had a motive to kill this woman besides the husband - she was a blackmailer, not for money, but for the power of it. Another murder follows, and Smiley begins to put the pieces together.
Very good film, with LeCarre writing the screenplay himself. Denholm Elliot does an excellent job as Smiley, quietly observant, perhaps lacking the bite of Alec Guinness, but good nonetheless. It was a delight to see Glenda Jackson - she's been out of acting for so long, it was a joy to see her and remember how fabulous she was. Christian Bale doesn't have a ton of dialogue, but he was instantly recognizable and did well. Joss Ackland has a showy part as a professor and gives a flamboyant performance.
This is a depressing, moody film, quite dark, and highly recommended.
My favorite DVD bar none. Denholm Elliott's Smiley was a brilliant
interpretation in the shadow of Alec Guinness, not a surprise if one
remembers his role in Woody Allen's "September." Glenda Jackson and
Diane Fletcher might have been given more screen time. Christian Bale
was smartly cast.
I've watched the DVD perhaps 30 times, more than either Tinker Tailor 1979 or Smiley's People 1982 (but they are several hours longer, I'd have to reload the DVD player for these, and each have gotten 10 or more viewings). To digress, Bernard Hepton's part in Smiley"'s People is scary good. To digress again, Cyril Cusack's "Control" in Spy Who Came in from the Cold" is chilling (though the style of the film is badly dated).
Is this program a mystery at all? I think "A Murder of Quality" is mostly a commentary by Le Carre on the sins and pretensions and hypocrisy of the decayed British Empire of the 1950's. To me, the mystery is much in the background - it provides a great format. In contrast, Tinker-Tailor and Smiley's People use the complex mystery to illuminate the hypocrisies of the East and West, but are strong core mysteries.
When I first viewed "A Murder of Quality" I was slightly put off by the structure, particularly the quick scene changes. I now think it was clever and possibly the reason I view the story over and over. I'm not sure who might get my credit/praise. Perhaps it's J Le Carre himself since he has screen writing credit.
On my DVD, Diane Fletcher's photo appears for Glenda Jackson in her (Glenda's) biography. There is no Diane Fletcher biography.
This 1991 British production (Thames TV) for the A&E channel is based
on mystery writer John le Carre's second novel. Le Carre wrote the
screenplay for "A Murder of Quality," so the necessary changes for
filming were made by the book's author himself. It's interesting that
this is the only story with le Carre's character, George Smiley, that
is set outside the field of espionage.
A number of British actors have played George Smiley in movies made on le Carre's books. They all are very good. Denholm Elliott has the role in this film. He plays a more reserved, humble character than usual. Glenda Jackson is excellent as his friend from espionage days, Alisa Brimley. Joss Ackland is very good as Terence Fielding, a school headmaster. And, Matthew Scurfield is very good as Inspector Rigby. The rest of the supporting cast all are quite good.
While this story has the usual red herring or two, it wasn't difficult for me to guess early on who the culprit was. The film even seemed to make it easy with one scene in particular. While I haven't read many mystery novels of the past few decades, I do enjoy the movies based on works by mystery writers. Besides le Carre, John Grisham and others are still writing today. But no one, in my estimation, will ever top Agatha Christie as a crime and mystery writer. Her super sleuth, Hercule Poirot, remains the most beguiling of all crime solvers, in my book. Since the early 1960s, I have read and/or watched the films on all of Christie's works that have been printed or put on film. Only once was I able to guess correctly early on who the culprit was.
Still, one can't have caviar, clams casino, lobster, and crepes Suzette all the time. Those are all the more enjoyable on special occasions, after many more meals of good but wholesome everyday meals. So, a movie based on a le Carre novel is enjoyable and satisfying at any time. Most movie buffs should enjoy "A Murder of Quality."
A surprise to John Le Carré's readers and to viewers who already know
about his works adapted into films, "A Murder of Quality" is a less
challengeable enterprise for the great agent George Smiley, this time
investigating a mysterious murder close to a respected school in
England's countryside. Smiley and his ability to find clues here are
more approachable to someone like Hercule Poirot than to someone who
had difficult missions when of his time in the Circus solving global
problems during the Cold War.
This TV adaptation goes according the original work, a small film based on a small book with effective and similar result. Both are good but they suffer from the greatness of seeing Smiley doing more important jobs going around the world working for the British intelligence. Plot is well elaborated but sometimes we lose interest in it, its lack of having a good pace to keep the story going. Plus, it looks like something already shown before time and time again, but it might work better for those who never watched careful and brilliant investigative flicks before. This isn't sinking into obscurity because people are rediscovering it due to very young Christian Bale's minor yet important role in it, people get curious to see some of his early projects.
Casting's good work is what makes of "A Murder of Quality" a very decent film. Playing the great George Smiley is Denholm Elliott, who brings a jolly quality to the role of the eternally enigmatic, contrived and serious character whose delivery of lines goes without affection, enthusiasm or surprise. Not the best portrayal of Smiley (Gary Oldman nailed it in every possible aspect in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy") but it's a good one anyway, very amusing and playful. And there's place for a remarkable performance of Glenda Jackson, playing George's best friend and helper with the case, and the efficient presences of David Threlfall and Joss Ackland.
A good dramatic suspense but never effervescent as Carré's stories tend to be. 7/10
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