[Cinema Sunday] ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ – British Intelligence Games

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
We’re not so different, you and I. We’ve both spent our lives looking for the weakness in one another’s systems. Don’t you think it’s time to recognize there is as little worth on your side as there is on mine?” – George Smiley.

Daylight saving time is here which means it’s time to move those clocks. Working off that, March can now be a time of cinematic rejoicing. Not only will Gary Oldman be turning the ripe age of 60 this year, last Sunday at the Academy Awards he finally was given his due. Gary took home one of the most coveted awards of the night, Best Actor In A Leading Role for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. And so in keeping with the spirit of amazing performances, today’s little journalistic jaunt will be about Oldman’s role in a fabulous Cold War spy drama adaptation. So come along and enter the world of espionage, games, and the hidden world of spies.

Left to right: John Hurt, Tomas Alfredson (center), Gary Oldman

Tomas Alfredson helmed the big screen production of this classic spy novel. The talented director from Sweden who got his feet wet in children’s TV programming, then broke big with the horror film Let The Right One In. When interviewed by Rotten Tomatoes at the time of Tinker’s release back in 2011, he stated about the setting of the story:

I think the period was so much about, not ’73, as this is set in, it’s about the ’60s and ’50s and ’40s — all the periods before that. Because if you would visit someone in a home in 1973 there would be one chair that was bought last year and the rest would be stuff from the ’40s or the ’50s. Too often people always sort of push the volume to 10 when they’re doing period stuff. But, it’s of course a lot of fun to do it, and revisit — especially if you have experienced it yourself.

This is all very well and good, but the main success of the production comes not just from the sets and setting, but also from its cast. Primarily, the leading man and the supporting players as well.

Gary Oldman has worn many hats to fit the parts he’s played over the years. From vampire king to ruthless future weaponsmith, to hardened police commissioner and wizard. His stepping into a refined and calculating role as British Intelligence agent George Smiley was an ideal role for him. There is a quiet dignity to his portrayal of George on camera. Where other members of the cast are given to fits of rage and outbursts, George remains impassive, watching and observing in order to carry out the last order of his superior, to ferret out the mole inside the organization that has been feeding top level secrets to the Soviets.

This is the part where things could get wordy, but they shall not. Simply put, the supporting cast of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy is of very epic proportions. To fill out every spot and bring each character to life, careful consideration had to be made for each and every person. For Control, head of the Circus (Intelligence), the steely and veteran actor John Hurt played the character excellently. In other roles, Colin Firth (Bill Hadon), Tom Hardy (Ricki Tarr), Mark Strong (Jim Prideaux), Toby Jones (Percy Alleline), Benedict Cumberbatch (Peter Guillam), the list of big names to play big parts goes on and on. But it is within these choices, like that of Oldman, that the story came to life and earned its place in the history of spy motion pictures.

Spy movies are more frequent now in modern cinema, making a project that is both a throwback and adapting an existing work all the more perilous. But fortune smiled down upon cast and crew in the form of high praise from reviewers. One in particular was from Rolling Stone and its film critic Peter Travers:

Watching Oldman parry with the electrifying Firth or put the screws to Hardy without raising his voice is a master class in film artistry. Oldman makes us brutally aware of the emotions roiling under the unruffled surface of this anti-James Bond, showing the sudden cruelty that tilts Smiley’s moral balance until – even behind his owlish glasses – he can’t see straight. As Alfredson directs the expert script by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor, the film emerges as a tale of loneliness and desperation among men who can never disclose their secret hearts, even to themselves. It’s easily one of the year’s best films.

As spring weather creeps in more and more and the nights become longer, Hollywood will soon be churning out the next crop of spring and summer releases. Amidst all the big explosive blockbusters and comedies and family films, will come along resounding dramas like today’s movie piece. So while enjoying the day or even the week, have a little treat on hand to enjoy this sumptuous and stupendous bit of cinematography and acting that once again showcases why Gary Oldman is truly a great actor.