Thoughts on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

General Geekiness

Something I should never do is see a movie while rereading it. All of the additions are fresh, the omissions glaring, and the result is sometimes less than satisfactory. As in the case, I am sad to say, with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The movie is a good one, don’t get me wrong. It is entertaining, tense, and often uncomfortable. When it ends, you’re left in a sort of silence, unable to speak, to explain what you saw (a different sort of silence from this weekend’s other movie, Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In). I enjoyed watching it, seeing how the film would handle certain scenes and situations. I really liked how Ann Smiley is a shadow, a hand, a dress, a blurred body, a presence, just as Karla is.

Because of film’s shorter run time than TV (or indeed, a book), character development is sacrificed for tension. We never find out what the motivations for the suspects are, we never know of their more shining moments and their faults. The mole gets more screentime than the rest of the suspects (with the exception of George Smiley). Relationships are shortchanged, neglected, largely forgotten. Characters are omitted entirely, the politics of the Circus around Control’s death pushed aside. There is no sense of truly bad blood, of the rift, of the betrayal.

In thinking about the movie, there are more things that I dislike about it than I like. In terms of casting, Gary Oldman was very good as Smiley, as was Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr, but it felt like the rest of the cast never was quite enough. Benedict Cumberbatch, while a good Peter Guillam, wasn’t tough enough. Toby Jones wasn’t pompous enough as Percy Alleline. Colin Firth, whom I was incredibly excited to see cast as Bill Haydon, fell a little flat.

I also am a bit wary of their moving the Prideaux storyline from Prague to Budapest, and the Ricki Tarr-Irina tale from Hong Kong to Istanbul.

I’ve also read that, rather than filming the Quest for Karla series as a trilogy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People may be combined into one movie. I guess The Honourable Schoolboy will have to wait to be its own movie.

Most amusing part? One of the production companies (I’m assuming John le Carre’s) is Karla Films.

Final verdict? Three of Five Stars.

Edit 21 September: It isn’t Prague that Jim Prideaux visits in the book. It’s Brno.

Book Challenge: Traitors, Inferno, Favoritism

What's On the Bookshelf?

Day 22: Book you plan to read next

I’m going to reread Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre! I don’t think I’ll get the biography on Gertrude Bell read before I leave. Tinker, Tailor is going to be my plane read. I’m hoping to reread most of it before I see the movie.

I really like my copy of the book. It’s a beat up, well loved tie in edition from the Alec Guinness mini-series (which I haven’t seen). I picked it up for 50 cents, even better for me!
Day 23: Book you tell people you’ve read, but haven’t (or haven’t actually finished)

Dante’s Divine Comedy. I don’t think I’ve explicitly said that I’ve read it, but I allude to it, quote it, etc. But I haven’t finished. I haven’t even finished Inferno. That’s a constant work in progress. I have trouble reading poetry. More accurately, I have trouble concentrating when I read poetry. I once read one of Tolkien’s epic poems. Wow.
Day 24: Book that contains your favorite scene

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I love the scene where Fred and George decide to leave Hogwarts. Its funny. There’s much mayhem. Fred and George. Love it.

Books that Matter: Smiley’s People by John Le Carre

Books that Matter

So, why not one of the other three Le Carre books that I’ve read?

Because this one…this one really got my gut. Le Carre’s books all manage to grab me, particularly because of how human his characters are. No one is entirely perfect, entirely good or entirely bad.

I really liked Smiley’s People because it was very much George Smiley alone. We really got to see how he operates and functions as an operative, and how he acts as part of his own mission, rather than one ordered by the Circus. Of course, characters like Toby Esterhase and Peter Guillam show up to help out in their own ways, but this book truly belongs to Smiley.

Another reason why I enjoyed this book so much is because of how we could see some of Karla’s motivation. He becomes more of a character in this book, rather than the threatening, murky photograph he is in the previous two books of the trilogy.

Moral conundrums and espionage, two of my favorite topics to read about. Le Carre is the man for that.

And the year’s book count is…

What's On the Bookshelf?


Yes, I know that there are still five days left in 2010, but I doubt that I will finish Les Miserables by then (reading a non-abridged translation…current update is: finished Book One). I’m hoping to finish Les Miserables before I return to school mid-January.

2010 was a good year for me, book reading wise. Way back in middle school, my favorite teacher suggested that I make a list of every book I read. Took a few years, but I finally got around to it. I think it’s a pretty successful exercise, and I’ll be continuing in 2011.

2011, along with having my list of what books I’ve read, will include a list of movies I’ve watched. I considered starting it this October, when I started watching a TON of classic and generally awesome movies. But that list will start January 1st as well.

As for the books I read this year, there were a few stand-outs, particularly in the getting-me-to-be-creative front. First up is Dante’s La Vita Nuova/The New Life. I read The Prince with the thought that Macchiavelli’s work would help with word-building (particularly around the power department), but it was Dante’s reshaping poetry that really stuck.

For sheer captivation, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy really grabbed my attention. I guess that 2010 was the year of the Spy for me, reading three works by John Le Carre, Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale and numerous books on spy television for my epic thesis.

And, to keep me from losing sight on the small things, Alexander McCall Smith’s works. I’ve caught up with his wonderful 44 Scotland Street series and am anxiously awaiting the release of the next one. Plus, I met Mr McCall Smith, which was wonderful.

So, what does 2011 have in store for me? Well, after finishing Victor Hugo’s epic Les Miserables, I have no idea. I want to read some of Len Deighton’s stuff, and will probably read Smiley’s People by John Le Carre (I must know how the Karla saga ends).