Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Review

The Film

The recent overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya exposed a number of secrets about the conduct of our intelligence services in the UK. Documents found suggest that our spies had shared information about dissidents that he would most likely kill or torture, and in turn we had colluded with him to kidnap and torture our perceived enemies. What makes these claims all the more shameful is the fact that those we helped him to terrorise are now the great hopes of a free Libya, and ironically allies we seek to cultivate.

John Le Carre's books, informed by his own time as a spy, outline the cold war and the kind of shifting loyalties outlined above. Key characters are double agents, former criminals and even those at the centre of the action understand how fine the lines separating the spies of East and West are. Tactical, coded and moral exchanges in this masculine enclave are revealed to enlighten the audience - the very people protected by this shadowplay.

Tomas Alfredson's film of probably Le Carre's most well known work captures two qualities near perfectly. Firstly, a sense of period, a London in decline with little in the way of grandeur and much in the way of grime and autumnal colours. Despite all of the global politics and the whiff of power, nearly the whole of the action is spent in dingy or chintzy settings.

The second and most interesting element, in fact probably the heart of what is at stake here, is the persons of the men who populate this world. These are men with secrets, men with broken hearts, men turned into killers who want now to be lovers, and men aware of the very decline around them. Foremost here is George Smiley himself.

In recent years, Gary Oldman has eschewed his shouty, sub De Niro past of intense and colourful performances. He has chosen quieter men with more of an internal life than an external show, and here he gets to be the quiet core of Alfredson's film as Smiley. Whether he is learning of carnage, personal or political betrayal or he is under attack by a bee, his minimalism only briefly gives way to exclamation. Smiley's feelings are suggested, implied and held privately even when the pain he feels is public and humiliating.

Reading this, you might already note how little I believe this is a film about plot and I hope you will forgive the lack of a synopsis about moles, Russians and the individual characters. Like the director's last film, Let The Right One In, this is more a film about relationships and place than a story of right and wrong or of thrills and spills.

In fact, some have criticised the film on that very point. A perception of slowness or lack of activity, too much talking and not enough action. My own thought is that such viewers have walked into the wrong film and mistaken Gary Oldman for Matt Damon or Tom Cruise. Lord knows how they would have coped with 5 hours of Alec Guiness looking wistful and enigmatic.

Given the best of British acting talent and a decent budget, the director Tomas Alfredson delivers a very satisfying and subtle film.

Technical Specs

The quality of the transfer did disappoint me a little. I noticed some visible edge enhancement with horizon shots and the black levels in the darkest sequences seemed incorrect with detail being lost because of it. The transfer has a slight layer of grain throughout, and offers a decent if not outstanding amount of detail.

All of the audio options are lossless, including the commentary and audio description. The main soundtracks come in 5.1 master audio and LPCM stereo options. The 5.1 mix offers great coverage and plenty of definite mixing of voices and effects within the rear channels as per the action. Generally voices are quiet in the film but clearly reproduced and mixed so as to be easily followed.


A studious, slightly reserved commentary comes from the director and star with much in the way of appreciation for actors. Oldman is keen to note Firth's affectations and other's talent, whilst Alfredson gives a sense of some of the choices he made. It's a thoughtful and far from intrusive commentary that will be worth sitting through for fans of the film.

Some brief featurettes include cast and crew talking about the character of Smiley, the world of spies, the director and Le Carre himself. Interviews with Oldman, Firth, Tom Hardy and Alfredson and Peter Straughan are included individually or as a reel.

A very rare Le Carre interview has him being very fluent about the history of the cold war and the culture of spies. Talking about the film, he admits his own preference for literature and explains that visiting sets doesn't work out well for him or the actors. He keeps his distance from judging the finished film but his love of writing wins over the viewer.

The deleted scenes include Smiley cooking, evidence of his wife's adultery, a swimming segment and a very uneasy lunchtime pint involving Guillam and Bland. A very forgettable featurette covers the premiere at the BFI, a Sky Movies special re-treads some of the earlier interviews and Michael Jayston reads first chapters of The Honourable Schoolboy and Smileys People.

The popup menu function merely redirects to the main menu, which is nicely designed and easily used.


With the blu-ray available in Steelbook and Deluxe editions there's a few options of how to pick this fine film up. Copying error aside this is an ok transfer with decent extras.

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