In the early 1970s during the Cold War, the head of British Intelligence, Control, resigns after an operation in Budapest, Hungary goes badly wrong. It transpires that Control believed one of four senior figures in the service was in fact a Russian agent - a mole - and the Hungary operation was an attempt to identify which of them it was. Smiley had been forced into retirement by the departure of Control, but is asked by a senior government figure to investigate a story told to him by a rogue agent, Ricky Tarr, that there was a mole. Smiley considers that the failure of the Hungary operation and the continuing success of Operation Witchcraft (an apparent source of significant Soviet intelligence) confirms this, and takes up the task of finding him. Written by
I know my limits. I just couldn't follow the plot of this labyrinthine movie adapted from John Le Carre's novel, which had previously been made into an award-winning BBC TV series with Alec Guinness as spy-catcher George Smiley. That itself had been a multi-part production but here the action, or should that be inaction, is condensed into a still lengthy two and a half-hour film.
It seemed that every time I picked up a plot thread, it led me down an inconclusive side-road with no real drama at any point. Even the revelation of the mole in the British Secret Service was delivered unspectacularly, in keeping with the dogmatic realism of the rest of the narrative. Plot-lines circle round and turn in on themselves but ended up only dizzying my perceptive powers.
The cream of contemporary British acting talent, old and young, pretty much is the whole cast but I didn't get any sense of the actors really inhabiting their parts. Gary Oldman's playing is very much in the shadow of Guinness and no-one else distinguished themselves in my eyes. They may have been in the book, I guess but strange scenes, like Smiley taking a constitutional swim in a public place or the Secret Service office party, just sort of occur, although to what end I'm not entirely sure. Apart from hearing the odd stray song on the soundtrack or sighting a vintage car in the streets, I hardly got the impression that this was the 70's at all. There were no news inserts or political issues to reference the times, leaving the story to unfold in a musty, grey netherworld, vaguely Kafka-ish in tone.
Which may well have been the point. All I know is this film failed to connect with me at all and was a major disappointment for this particular viewer in almost very respect.
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