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Please read responsibly, especially if you liked the film. Also, there be spoilers.


Well, I haven't read the book but I've seen the BBC adaptation and listened to the audio dramatisation, and am reliably informed that these are super close to the book. Which I have been listening to since this morning. So.

My main point of criticism is that Smiley and Guillam are supposed to be a team, Guillam is Smiley's right-hand man and, in the BBC adaptation, he was the second lead. Also Peter is the most likeable character and, to an extent, the audience identification figure. To rehash a tired phrase, he is in many ways "the Watson to Smiley's Holmes", and given Cumberbatch's standing, that was what I was hoping for. Especially since he'd talked so much about it being the ultimate experience for an actor.

Well, I'm not going to lie, I don't like at all what this adaptation did to the character. He's little more than a bit part, and completely different from what he's supposed to be. I got the feeling he wasn't really not up to the job, to the extent where I wondered why exactly Smiley trusted him as much as he did. Which, granted, is a fault of the script and direction more than the acting. Either way, I really wasn't impressed. He seemed too nervous, too insecure, and too young to be in the position he was in. He was supposed to be in charge of the scalp-hunters after all, and that was a demotion from another position in the Circus. He seemed more inexperienced than Ricki Tarr, and that was where it ended for me, really. I could not take him seriously. If they were going to give him a background that was that different from the source material, it needed explaining.

I also thought there was zero reason to make him gay, especially in the way it was done. In the source material he's the only one who gets out with his spine and heart still intact, and I felt that breaking him in this way was unnecessary.

I liked that Karla wasn't actually shown, but I didn't like that they had to take a shortcut with so many plot points (Bill Haydon being involved with Smiley's wife and the lighter being the two examples that spring to mind). Obviously, to fit this much story into a two-hour film, you have to take a hatchet somewhere. As a result, many things were underdeveloped or not shown at all, like Control's deteriorating mental state or the characterisation of pretty much any of the suspects apart from Bill. Or the massive massive backstory of Smiley's retirement and the reorganisation of the Circus, which is sort of important. By contrast, others were overdone past the point of painful obviousness (Bill/Jim, anyone?). And don't tell me you didn't twig who the mole was within the first ten minutes. So yes, I do find it ironic that all the reviews say what an intelligent film it is, because when you compare it to how complicated the story originally was, it is hugely simplified.

As for the performances: Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy are the ones who really stand out, I was surprised at how good Mark Strong was, and Colin Firth completely nailed Bill Haydon. And obviously, gorgeous cinematography and all the rest of it, so yes, it was easy on the eye. And I liked the use of Smiley's glasses to indicate the switch in time period. But that's mostly because I am usually atrocious at following that sort of thing and that simple device just made it so easy. Visual clues, film-makers, take note.

But I think the main issue I have with it is that it pretends to be something it isn't.

Let me explain by a similar case: State of Play. The original TV series is fantastic so I really wasn't sure about the film version. What the film version did was, essentially, work as a different interpretation of the same theme. The characters' names and essential characteristics were kept, the plot was similar, but it was transposed to a different setting and time and updated/adapted accordingly. The result was that film and series had enough in common but were at the same time sufficiently different from one another. You could accept them as separate entities and enjoy each on its own merits. They don't take away from each other.

By contrast, I don't think many people who like the BBC adaptation will like this one. It tries to be too many things. The main point they were trying to make was that being a spy messes you up for any kind of normal life, but if you try and do that with source material that's as plotty as this, it's pretty much destined to fail. The same point is much more explicit in another le Carré novel, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, which is also very much focussed on one character. And let's face it, this adaptation of TTSS was very focussed on Smiley. And here's another way in which the film pretends to be something it isn't: The advertising tempted me with the promise of an ensemble cast, but instead I got to watch Gary Oldman. Which really isn't bad, but not what I had expected either.

In short, I fail to be hugely impressed. I'm glad I went to see it because it was still a good film, but I think it was too overhyped and I'm too invested in the source material to appreciate it. I just didn't feel like it added anything essential or new to the story, which is what a good remake or reimagining should do, imho.

So, if you'd like to sell it to me or explain where I failed to appreciate it, do feel free to drop me a line :) I'm especially curious to hear what people who don't know the source material think of the film.



This entry was originally posted at http://morelindo.dreamwidth.org/458893.html. You can comment here or there (OpenID comments are enabled).

Date: 2011-09-22 06:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-nightjar.livejournal.com
I'm familiar with both the book and the series (although I haven't seen the latter for many years). For me it took two viewings for to really appreciate the film and I enjoyed it much more second time around, possibly because I was over the need to constantly compare it to its previous incarnations (something I did continuously through the first screening).

I was apprehensive about the changes to Guillam's character in particular and sceptical about the gay aspect. I guess it all boiled down to the need get a sense of the damage done to the emotional lives of these men by the work they do in the most economical way possible. OK the Camilla subplot was binned, but it didn't make it into the series either and would have taken up too much screentime in the film. I thought the reworking got the point over well, even if the emphasis was different to that of the book.

Btw Bill/Jim completely bypassed me until the film and even then I had to be persuaded. That's what happens when you read a book like TTSS at 14!

All in all I thought it was a moody, atmospheric and surprisingly moving interpretation of leCarre's work. The individual performances were terrific without exception and the period detail stunning.

I would urge you to see it again :)

Date: 2011-09-23 09:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] morelindo.livejournal.com
Thanks very much for the comment and all your thoughts.

The thing is, it wasn't a bad film, and I did like the performances—given that everyone except Oldman got about five seconds of screen time each, I thought they were all stunning (well, apart from BC, that is).

As for the period detail, well, yes, it looks like the Sixties, but it looks like artificial Sixties, whereas the BBC version looks like reality. It's so overloaded with atmosphere and close-ups I felt overpowered sometimes, though sitting in the third row may not have helped.

The gay aspect of Guillam's character is probably the one change I have the least issue with. I was more concerned about what had happened to the BAMF who picked Smiley's front-door locks. I don't mind that they made him gay but I do mind that it wasn't explored at all. I mean... they read the book, they watched the BBC adaptation, they wrote the script, they decided to make him gay, and then they only mention it for two seconds? I remain puzzled as to the reasons. One reviewer pointed out that homosexuals in those days must have been very good at living double lives and were thus ideally suited to intelligence work, and if this interpretation of Guillam had given me the impression of actually being good at his job, I'd be willing to accept that as an explanation. But the way it was done... nah. I was explaining some of the original characterisation to some work colleagues who didn't know about it, and they were really surprised because they thought BC's Guillam looked like, quote, "the work experience guy."

I'm rewatching the BBC version at the moment and as much as I take your comment to heart, it's making me realise how attached to it I am, so I think it's unlikely I'll see the film again until the DVD release.

The hype has spawned the Michael Jayston audiobooks of the Smiley novels though so I'm not complaining :)

Date: 2011-09-23 12:45 am (UTC)
ext_613151: (Tired!Watson)
From: [identity profile] pillow-face.livejournal.com
Yay not the only one who didn't get why people are so in love with this film. I was really looking forward to it, as you said, the reviewers said it was an intelligent film. It was pretty much Inception all over again for me. It tried to be complicated and just ended up predictable.

Also the gay thing, confused. It just seemed randomly thrown in there to me. Just 'oh look he's gay! Okay moving swiftly on'.

Agree also with the focus on Smiley. I went into that film looking forward to seeing lots of my fav actors yet mainly just saw Oldman with a bit of everyone else on the side.

Just disappointed, although I think I would have liked it more if I hadn't gone in with so many expectations. Still a good film, just not brilliant.

Date: 2011-09-23 12:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] morelindo.livejournal.com
The funny thing is, the original story is hugely complicated and genuinely thrilling, but all the shortcuts they had to take in this version because of time constraints ended up making it predictable, and that's a shame.

You echo my feelings on this exactly. I read one review that said they liked the change because it illustrated that homosexuals in those days were very good at putting on an act, living double lives and having double identities and therefore were suited to being spies. Which is all true, but with Guillam in this adaptation, you get the feeling that he's really not suited to the job at all. Cumberbatch talked so much about getting in character, even going to North Africa, where (in the source) Guillam ran his own team of agents. None of that was even mentioned.

Just disappointed, although I think I would have liked it more if I hadn't gone in with so many expectations. Still a good film, just not brilliant.

I think that's what it comes down to for me. It is not a bad film, but it has nothing on the other adaptations and very little in common with the source material.

Date: 2011-09-23 01:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flawedamythyst.livejournal.com
And don't tell me you didn't twig who the mole was within the first ten minutes.

I had no idea until the reveal. But then, I am always terrible at guessing who the bad guy is in these kinds of things, so perhaps we shouldn't be using me as an example. Although, actually, I don't think the girl I went with did either, and she's usually more clued in than I am.

You already know most of my thoughts/opinions on the film, so I won't bother rehashing. It's interesting to see your thoughts, though - I think you're right about the different experiences that people who know the canon are having from those who are totally new to it.

Date: 2011-09-23 12:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] morelindo.livejournal.com
Thanks for commenting. I almost feel a bit bad because it really isn't a bad film, but I went in with sky-high expectations and was, as a result, disappointed. Where you see gaps to fill with fic I just see omissions from canon, and I almost regret that a bit because I was hoping that if all else failed, it would at least inspire me to write, but it doesn't seem to be happening.

Date: 2011-10-03 01:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bbakerb.livejournal.com
Hello! I didn't see the film until a few days ago but I remembered you'd made a post critical of the TTSS film and since I did like the film thought I would test my liking by reading your post, if that makes sense. If you want to reply to this, please do so as freely as you like, I'm not going to get flamingly defensive.

so - I've seen the film and am now halfway through the book, I've read a couple of JLC's other novels before but not TTSS and I'm not familiar with the Alec Guinness version or the radio/audio adaptation, though they are on my list of things to get hold of! I'd actually read the first 80 or so pages of the novel before I saw the film, which was just enough to be confused and not quite enough to be helpful. Anyway: will try to respond to your points.

- Guillam: I thought he got a lot of screen time considering that he's not a suspect and not really part of the generation of spies that the story is about. He had far more to do than Ciaran Hinds as Roy Bland, for example. And I think his nervousness is explained by the unusual situation of his having to spy on his own people; as he says to Ricki Tarr, 'Do you know how that made me feel?' - i.e. it made him feel awful. And he gets considerably less nervous as the film goes on - the business with the combination-locked cupboard is the first thing he has to do in the office itself, by the time he steals the file he's dealing with it much better, and by the time he picks up Esterhase he seems pretty much to have just terrified him into getting into that car.

There is actually an inconsistency within the novels regarding Guillam - in JLC's first few books Guillam was a near-contemporary of Smiley. Then - realising he wanted to write more books about Smiley - he revised a few things, made Guillam younger (and gave him more to do), and made Smiley younger as well so that the novels could continue being set in the then-present day.

You mention in the comments that Guillam ran a team of agents in North Africa and that this wasn't mentioned - so far in the book it has been just that, mentioned, and no more. I think it would be tricky to work in due to it being fairly tangential to the main plot. I also think that for purposes of realism you can't have people - who in the story supposedly know each other very well - and who moreover are trained not to tell anyone anything unless they have to - mentioning at length things that they have no need to or which are mutually already known. (Which is why Smiley unburdening himself about Karla to Guillam is so powerful.)

- e.g. Smiley knows Guillam is gay, he's worked it out, and would never, ever let on that he knew, unless he had to, and here he does - incredibly tactfully - because he knows that if the Circus can make things difficult for Guillam they will.

regarding Guillam being gay in the film and not in the book: I think that basically all the changes made from the book (e.g. Guillam's homosexuality, Ricki and Irina having far more genuine affection than in the book, the reordering of events) were done to heighten the themes of loyalty and betrayal. Everyone in the film betrays in some way someone on a personal level - Smiley's difficulty is in seeing past the web of quite ordinarily unpleasant human betrayal to the single betrayal that is not personal at all. The paradox being that the minor betrayals are relevant to the big ones. I don't think that they were trying to show that being a spy messes you up - when Ricki Tarr says, "I don't want to end up like you," I think what he really means is not messed-up but lonely

Date: 2011-10-04 08:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] morelindo.livejournal.com
You are AMAZING. Seriously.

There is nervousness in the book as well, agreed, but not to the level where you think he can't do the job.

I'm aware of the inconsistency in between JLC's books, but it doesn't really matter that much for the adaptation. It's a continuity error in the source material, and yes, it's annoying.

The reason I mentioned North Africa was because Cumberbatch talked so much in interviews about going to Morocco, to the city where Guillam was stationed, and wandering around to get in character. I know actors do all sorts of weird things that never make it onto the screen. The point is, I never got the sense that this is a man who, at one point, was running his own network of agents, who has substantial experience of the spy game. My coworkers, who saw the film a couple of days before me, all thought he seemed like a work experience guy more than anything else.

Re: the gayness, one reviewer pointed out that homosexuals in those days had to be good at double-think, at acting a part pretty much 24/7. Like I said, if I had got the impression that Peter was any good at his job, I would happily accept this as the reason for the change, but as it was, it didn't convince me.

Date: 2011-10-03 01:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bbakerb.livejournal.com
and this comment is officially now TOO LONG, here is part 2

- I think they're trying to show that everything is the job - even when it shouldn't be, even when you think it can't possibly be. The best example of this is I think Haydon's affair with Ann. - and also Guillam having to dump his partner and never even say why is another way to show that the risks in this line of work don't end when you go home at the end of the day - that everyone has some personal vulnerability. (except Roy Bland because he has zero screen time)

- I think Control's deteriorating mental state is shown - when Jim is shot he freezes up, he clearly feels persecuted by the rest of the office apart from Smiley. And I think Alleline got a lot more characterisation than Bill, at least until the end.

- I didn't guess who the mole was at all, and I'm usually quite good at getting things like that!

- despite Bill/Jim seeming obvious to people from the internet, I can tell you that ordinary cinemagoers (my parents, aunts, uncles etc) only just barely got it! and here's another reason why making Guillam gay is ok by me: it means that the intense male friendship-and-maybe-more between Jim and Bill is not the only gayness in the film, it means you don't end up with a correlation between 'potential homosexuality' and 'being a traitor'.

- I do think the film is intelligent - it requires a lot of attention to understand what's going on, and it all makes sense on a level that I didn't fully appreciate until I saw it for the second time - I actually enjoyed it more the second time because I kept noticing things, just small things, that added enormously to my appreciation of the film. The owl that Jim kills is mounted on the wall of his classroom when Smiley goes to see him. Guillam looks at his watch and groans during the archive heist - because he's got ahead of himself and moved too quickly. Everyone sings the Soviet anthem and thinks it's a great joke - except Esterhase, who (understandably) doesn't think it's funny at all.

- There are some things you mention - e.g. the lighter - which if they aren't in the book simply devices to tie the film together more neatly. There's a fantastic film called L.A. Confidential, adapted from a sprawling novel by James Ellroy, which uses a similar device, invented for the film, as a shortcut to allow a cop to realise in an instant the true nature of another character. It just ties the film together.

tl;dr comment by now probably as long as your actual post sorry

Date: 2011-10-04 08:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] morelindo.livejournal.com
I think they're trying to show that everything is the job - even when it shouldn't be, even when you think it can't possibly be.

I think the main issue I have with the film is that it's a plot-driven story, but they made a character-driven film out of it. I tend to like character-driven pieces, but in this instance, the plot suffered too much. Most people I've spoken to have either seen it twice or were intending to see it a second time because they didn't understand what was going on. It's also, imho, very obviously Oscar bait: the restricted colour palette, the deliberately theatrical sets-within-sets, the way it's shot (I actually groaned when the scenes with Ricki and Irina happened Rear Window style)... That just irks me. It just constantly shouts about its own artificiality, in a manner of speaking.

here's another reason why making Guillam gay is ok by me: it means that the intense male friendship-and-maybe-more between Jim and Bill is not the only gayness in the film, it means you don't end up with a correlation between 'potential homosexuality' and 'being a traitor'.

Oh. OH. I've never thought about it that way.

You know, you almost make me want to watch it again with your list of stuff you noticed. I have to say, seeing this on a small screen might actually work better for me, if I ever do. Third row in a multiplex cinema was very intense.

OH MY GOD LA CONFIDENTIAL I LOVE THAT FILM STUPID AMOUNTS.

The lighter is in the book but the way it was used in the film isn't (as far as I recall).

Don't be sorry, I had fun there :)

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