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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.



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November 2012

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