It’s no wonder that two mesmerizing spy films that readily come to mind were both based during the Cold War era and were adaptations of John Le Carre’s books, viz. Martin Ritt’s bleak, fatalist and deeply existentialist The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and John Irvin’s 7-part mini-series made for BBC Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Dreary, slow-burning, character-driven, decidedly droll with subtle doses of dark humour, wry cynicism and irony strewn throughout, un-glamorized yet convoluted, and filled with existentialist touches, it made for a fabulous chamber drama on the cold machinations of dapper-suited, middle-aged gentlemen in claustrophobic rooms concealed from the people at large. When veteran spy Jim Prideaux (Ian Bannen), upon being sent behind the Iron Curtain by Control (Alexander Knox), the ageing head of British Intelligence, in order to find out the identity of an alleged Moscow mole planted at the very top of Circus, gets caught on enemy territory, the ensuing scandal leads to Control’s ouster and replacement with the unctuous Percy Alleline (Michael Aldridge). The sudden appearance of discredited spy Ricki Tarr (Hywel Bennett), however, rejuvenates suspicions of a double agent, and leads to return from retirement of Control’s former deputy George Smiley (Alex Guinness) in order to flush the person out. The leisurely pace, wintry atmosphere, gradual development of suspense, a sharply written script that seamlessly traversed between the political and the personal in the form of Smiley’s barely concealed marital life, and desolate portrayal of the cold lies, betrayals and paranoia that the era as well as cloak and dagger business remind one of. Fine performances abound, but Guinness’ measured yet magnetic turn as the weary, cynical and brilliant protagonist remains a cornerstone in TV history.
Director: John Irvin
Genre: Drama/Spy Thriller/TV Mini-Series