September 6, 2019

AGITPROP:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: 40 years on, the labyrinthine thriller is still TV caviar: The BBC adaptation of John Le Carré's novel mystified a nation - but also featured one of the greatest performances ever seen on the small screen (Paul MacInnes, 5 Sep 2019, The Guardian)

Watching Tinker Tailor today, you feel teleported: you get the thrill of watching something that is complex, that you can't quite make sense of but desperately wish to. (In 1979, the debate over Tinker Tailor's complexity continued into the Guardian's letters pages, with the counterpoint to the Larry Grayson position being articulated by a Dr Graham Nicholls, who made the case that "People love being mystified".)

You also get to watch something that is slow and often silent, and all the more powerful for that. "Arthur [Hopcraft] in his dialogue left a lot of space for silence," says Irvin of the celebrated Guardian journalist who went on to a brief but glittering career as a screenwriter. "It wasn't like working with Pinter, where it was deliberate, but it gave a chance to see what's going on behind the mask. A spy story is a succession of masks. It's poker - the silence is when you are trying to read the other's mind. If people talk a lot, they're not going to be very good spies. The trick was in timing the silence so that you don't overdo it and it becomes tedious, but leaving it long enough that it became tantalising."

Those moments worked as Irvin hoped, and form the centre of Tinker, Tailor. They are like the extended interrogations in Line of Duty, except the tension is more drawn out and there are more gaps the viewer is encouraged to fill. Those interrogations would not have been remotely as effective, however, had they not featured one of the greatest acting performances ever delivered on the small screen.

Sir Alec Guinness, it was suggested at the time, was able to play Smiley because he was rolling in Star Wars money. His reluctance to take the part of Obi-Wan Kenobi had led him to ask for 2% of the film's box office takings. That turned out to be a smart move and allowed Guinness some lassitude in selecting his next roles. According to Irvin, however, that did not mean he leapt at the prospect of Tinker, Tailor. "He needed three lunches with me and certainly a lunch with David [Cornwall, AKA John Le Carré] and the head of MI6 to be convinced that he would commit."

Eventually he did commit, and Guinness set about fully engaging with a character he described to the Guardian at the time as being "a vulnerable man who ... is capable of taking unexpectedly swift and rather harsh action".

It's not complex, it was just made at a point where the intellectual class still thought the Soviet Union were our peers. And, unlike the recent movie, it retains the ferocious anti-American/anti-Western flavor that made Le Carre a Soviet operative.

Posted by at September 6, 2019 7:28 AM

  

« I ONLY GO FOR THE THEBAN CHICKEN WINGS: | Main | METHOD MAN: »