Sat 11 Feb 2012
A few weeks after coming to Israel as a new immigrant in 1984 I started to borrow books from the public library in Lod. The first book that I ever read after becoming a free man was John Le Carre‘s ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’. Obviously the sophisticated world of Cold War espionage viewed from the perspective of the West was not the kind of theme that would allow books to be published in Communist Romania. I fell under spell from the first pages, and this was the beginning of a log term relationship of adulation and frequent reader mileage between me and Le Carre.
I missed the very well made (as I hear) BBC series, so the film directed by Tomas Alfredson is the first screen version of the novel that I see. The principal lines of action and the relations between the characters are well kept here, and for most of the duration of the film the deep feeling of incertitude, the Britishness of feelings well concealed under manners, the foggy fights were the concepts of good and bad need to be found deep inside the hearts and minds of the characters receive appropriate translation in the language of cinema. The interior flow of Le Carre prose gets an equivalent in a series of short scenes, some happening in the present, other being flashbacks that get a pace and fluidity of themselves that make of the film a captivating thriller despite the lack of real action scenes. The Byzantine relations between the members of the secret services are translated into dances of characters that move and look to each other, or avoid one another like in sacred rituals. The Cold War atmosphere is put on screen using 70s-like effects, all blurred in smoke of cigarette, fog and frost.
Some nuances get lost, and this is probably inevitable. Some characters get new dimensions or different perspectives. The sentimental aspect of the story (the relation between Smiley and his wife) is told, but loses in the context of the film the emotional importance it has in the book. On the other hand Gary Oldman builds a Smiley perfectly fit for the screen translation of Le Carre’s intention. ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ is one of the best adaptations of a novel by Le Carre that I have seen to date.