Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman Revealed
The Inside Story Of Sideshow Collectibles
Guardians Of The Galaxy Review
Nick Frost:
My Movie Life

The World's End star's pick of the flicks
Subscribe: 6 Issues For £15!
Subscribe today and save 37% off the cover price!
Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
Click poster to enlarge
More posters to select

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Gary Oldman
Colin Firth
Tom Hardy
Kathy Burke
Benedict Cumberbatch
David Dencik
Stephen Graham
Ciarán Hinds
John Hurt
Toby Jones
Simon McBurney
Mark Strong.
Directors
Thomas Alfredson.
Screenwriters
Bridget O'Connor
Peter Straughan.
Running Time
127 minutes

LATEST FILM REVIEWS
Guardians Of The Galaxy
4 Star Empire Rating
A Night At The Cinema In 1914
4 Star Empire Rating
Hide Your Smiling Faces
4 Star Empire Rating
A Promise
1 Star Empire Rating
Nut Job, The
2 Star Empire Rating



5 STAR REVIEWS
Two Days, One Night
5 Star Empire Rating
Some Like It Hot
5 Star Empire Rating
A Hard Day's Night
5 Star Empire Rating
Boyhood
5 Star Empire Rating
Rebel Without A Cause
5 Star Empire Rating

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Oldman has a Smiley face!


submit to reddit


Plot
London, the 1970s: After a fiasco of a covert operation, British Intelligence spymaster Control (Hurt) and his right-hand man George Smiley (Oldman) are sacked. Then shocking but persuasive information that a Soviet mole has penetrated to the heart of the secret service prompts the Whitehall wallahs to task Smiley with spying on the spies.


Review
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Browse more images »
It was certainly a brave undertaking, tackling what is not only one of the greatest espionage novels ever, but one whose 1979 serialisation by the BBC lingers in the memory of everyone of a certain age. It’s a pleasure and a relief, then, that the film succeeds in its own right. It is a superior whodunnit thriller and a very grown-up one, devoted not to guns, girls, gadgets and glamour, but to the little grey cells. And in plumbing George Smiley’s grey matter, Gary Oldman has understood the illusion of being a nondescript sort of little man with a remarkable mind, authority and a gut full of secret sorrows and sins behind the serious spectacles.

The starting point is a fine screenplay by Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O’Connor that rings a few changes to John le Carré’s tale. Most of them are subtle, sensible, and a couple are even a touch humorous. It probably goes without saying that the sterling cast is uniformly on top of things, undoubtedly delighted to find themselves in such excellent company. The real stroke was recruiting Tomas Alfredson. With Swedish melancholia in vogue, the Let The Right One In director proves an ideal choice to turn a baleful gaze on le Carré’s perfectly miserable spies — a breed of men he characterised as unromantic figures prone to unpleasant stomach ailments and trouble with their wives. Alfredson is clearly a kindred spirit of both le Carré and Smiley, intently focused and with a dispassionate eye for the small, telling detail: on a face, in a room, from a conversation.

Pulled back into the Cold War spy game to unmask the traitor in the Circus that is MI6, Smiley learns that Control (John Hurt) had sniffed the mole and assigned code names for his principle suspects. Tinker is smug Percy Alleline (Toby Jones). Tailor is sardonic Bill Haydon (Colin Firth). Soldier is bluff proletarian Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds). Poor Man is prissy émigré Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), and sadsack Smiley, also a suspect, Beggarman. Evidently Control grasps Smiley’s two weaknesses: his love for faithless wife Ann, and his fascination with Soviet counterpart Karla. It’s a great decision that we never see the faces of Ann or Karla, shadowy figures who loom large in Smiley’s capacious memory. In one particularly arresting scene, Smiley relates his sole face-to-face encounter with Karla years earlier — not through flashback, but an anecdote in which he becomes uniquely animated, re-enacting his dialogue with the cruelly astute Russian.

Other key players in the chess game include Mark Strong’s dutiful, tragic Jim Prideaux, dangled as bait, betrayed and abandoned… to become a teacher. Nowadays, of course, it is hard to imagine even the most third-rate public school engaging a darkly mysterious man with no past and permitting him to entertain small boys to tea in his rackety-packety caravan, but it’s in keeping with the seediness that deliberately pervades the whole shebang, from the desiccated Control, with his messy rooms and his paranoid plotting, to the nicely cheesy selection of Julio Iglesias warbling La Mer over the end montage.

It’s probable Benedict Cumberbatch had the most fun as Peter Guillam, Smiley’s trusted legman (amusingly, TV’s Sherlock plays what Ian Nathan aptly described as Smiley’s Watson) with a groovy narrow-cut suit, fruity ties and a ’60s pop-star haircut. He features in a showpiece nail-biter of a sequence; it’s the good old filching-of-secret-documents routine, but his progress from the security entrance and through the corridors of The Circus — brushing by suspects and the suspicious — is achieved with sweat trickling in suspense. Tom Hardy is the bit of rough Ricki Tarr, a foot soldier at the thuggish end of field work, but one with the instincts to know when he’s been sent on a fool’s errand and when to run. It is the return of AWOL agent Ricki that raises the alarm and sets Smiley on the right track. It’s wonderful to see Kathy Burke cajoled back into acting for a key scene as boozy Connie, the researcher forcibly retired to shut her up and shelve her encyclopedic memory. There’s even a cameo from le Carré, who can be seen among the Circus staff drunkenly hailing the arrival of Santa Lenin at the ghastly office Christmas party revisited in a series of discreetly revelatory flashbacks.

Those who have not read the book or seen the BBC version do not need to worry overmuch about plot complexities or following the threads — Ricky Tarr’s odyssey out in the cold, the workings of Alleline’s pet project Operation Witchcraft, the language of the ‘service’ — although they are well laid out. What matters are the layers and levels of betrayal, to country, cause, colleagues, lovers and to self, from great to small, like a nested Russian doll.

Rarely do critics complain that a film isn’t long enough, but this is the almost freakish exception. The film is so well paced over its two-odd hours, but another half-hour could have been used to give the suspects more to do and to generate yet more suspense and concern about which of them is the traitor. It’s really the revelation of the mole that lets the side down — it doesn’t deliver the punch to the gut one wants. Of course, if you haven’t worked out who it is by then, you must be very innocent in the ways of these things. Of course it is him. It had to be him. But his all-of-a-sudden apprehension and the tableau greeting the latecomer arriving at the scene of the double-dealer’s downfall, while laudable in its restraint and lack of histrionics, is a trifle too cool.

Oldman’s performance is most eloquent and expressive in his fluent command of body language. The set of his shoulders and his posture, the occasional adjustment of his spectacles, tell you precisely what’s going on in Smiley’s mind. There is a moment near the end when we only see him from the back but feel an electric thrill, knowing with certainty by his stance that his heart has leapt at what he has seen. Alfredson is startlingly adept at envisioning how Smiley’s mind works; you can almost see the wheels turning as the pieces of the puzzle click together (at one point you literally see tracks converging as he nears his ‘Eureka!’ moment), and a clever piece of sound editing filters conversations through Smiley’s thought process until he homes in on a phrase that is the key to everything. And then there is his face in his final shot; we recognise the sweet taste of game over, game well-played in his mouth.


Verdict
Utterly absorbing, extremely smart and - considering this is a sad, shabby, drably grey-green world of obsessives, misfits, misdirection, disillusionment, self-delusion and treachery - quite beautifully executed.


Reviewed by Angie Errigo

Write Your Review
To write your review please login or register.

Your Reviews

Average user rating for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Empire Star Rating

RE: Hmm

L: galvatron I loved it. Great performances all round. I was gripped by the plot. loads of walk outs at my showing and loads of students complaining they didn't understand it! ote] Same here. It is hard to follow at times but that just means you have to engage your brain and pay attention. Calls for repeat viewings. ... More

Posted by Spaldron at 15:29, 05 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Hmm

I loved it. Great performances all round. I was gripped by the plot. We had loads of walk outs at my showing and loads of students complaining they didn't understand it!  ... More

Posted by galvatron at 11:03, 05 October 2011 | Report This Post


Hmm

I wanted to like this film so so much! The trailer looked awesome, the cast is obviously fantastic and I heard that the story line was real edge of your seat stuff. Unfortunately I was totally confused and really pretty bored. The performances were outstanding and I thought it looked great. Hardy and Oldman were amazing as always. Maybe I'm not as clever as I thought I was but I found this so hard to follow and therefore a real struggle. It wasn't a drama, it certainly wasn't a thriller, so what... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by guysalisbury at 13:46, 03 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

I concur with the above, great film. ... More

Posted by NinjaShortbread212 at 01:43, 01 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

I'd give this 5 stars without hesitation. Definitely an actors piece, stunning performances all round and it looked terrific. Love the dreary 70's look and subtle direction, not one for short attention spans though. When we saw it tonight a (admittedly chavvy looking) couple walked out 20 minutes in! We managed the full 2 hours and loved every minute of it. Will go see again soon. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Spaldron at 00:56, 01 October 2011 | Report This Post


RE:

One thing I've been thinking about loads though... what was that guy eating outside the cafe at the start, when he was sitting with Mark Strong? The sound of his chewing, the colour of it, the smile on the actors face... it looked delicious and I don't really know why! ... More

Posted by Hood_Man at 23:44, 29 September 2011 | Report This Post


Not all that. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Gerard Lough at 16:12, 29 September 2011 | Report This Post


WORTH THE PRICE OF A TICKET.......

just for the brilliant cast and the performances. Enjoyed the hell out of the shabby 1970's setting and the complex plotting. This isn't Bond - on the contrary - it's the polar opposite. Dirty, sweaty faces bathed in washed out light and shadows and dripping with paranoia. Never read the books and never watched the TV series......might just do both now.......FOUR STARS ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ROTGUT at 18:02, 28 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

n late*e key)] I am most elyto see TTSS this week, I can't stand the suspense any longer! I think though that I may restrain from coming on this thread as the reviews are so mixed.... L: demoncleaner unt snobbery shouldn't exist anywhere on the forums.  ote] Also this ^ ... More

Posted by NinjaShortbread212 at 14:32, 28 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Thanks for the welcome @thetruth and @demoncleaner - I look forward to more discussions in the future! After watching TTSS everyone I heard on the way out of the cinema mentioned how good the film looked and how amazing the acting was but not once did I hear someone say it was an entertaining film ... More

Posted by ChudMonkey at 14:26, 28 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

L: thetruth Are you implying this is dumbed down DC? I didnt think so.I accept the major criticism of the reveal being badly written. Which is a complete shame,this cast could have knocked it out of the park! Definitely not, I'm not saying it's dumbed down at all.  I'm saying that it's free from the bombast and bluster of big reveals and the heavy-handed audience manipulation of everyday thrillers.  And all of this is a very good thing for TTSS. ... More

Posted by demoncleaner at 13:32, 28 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Are you implying this is dumbed down DC? I didnt think so.I accept the major criticism of the reveal being badly written. Which is a complete shame,this cast could have knocked it out of the park! ... More

Posted by thetruth at 13:04, 28 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

L: ChudMonkey L: Giant Green Rabbit A good film which for me is also flawed. I watched TTSS and then watched the BBC series shortly afterwards. They say when you present work, the most important point to get across is 'why should anyone care?'. For me, despite the wonderful style, the generally good pacing and brilliant acting, the flaw is that there isn't enough investment in characters or themes. If we had more information about the potential moles we might have more ... More

Posted by thetruth at 13:00, 28 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

L: ChudMonkey I'm sure to get some criticism for this only being my second post on here, but you gotta start somewhere! /quote] Post count snobbery shouldn't exist anywhere on the forums.  I think the point other posters made (I myself didn't allude to it, but there's definitely something in it) is to do with one post hatchet jobs from people who aren't intentioned to be reasonable (and they don't have to be) but more importantly users who won't come back and qualify the... More

Posted by demoncleaner at 12:27, 28 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

L: Giant Green Rabbit A good film which for me is also flawed. I watched TTSS and then watched the BBC series shortly afterwards. They say when you present work, the most important point to get across is 'why should anyone care?'. For me, despite the wonderful style, the generally good pacing and brilliant acting, the flaw is that there isn't enough investment in characters or themes. If we had more information about the potential moles we might have more emotional investment; i... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ChudMonkey at 11:22, 28 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

A good film which for me is also flawed. I watched TTSS and then watched the BBC series shortly afterwards. They say when you present work, the most important point to get across is 'why should anyone care?'. For me, despite the wonderful style, the generally good pacing and brilliant acting, the flaw is that there isn't enough investment in characters or themes. If we had more information about the potential moles we might have more emotional investment; if we had more information on th... More

Posted by Giant Green Rabbit at 14:07, 27 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier...

I loved it. Not in a smug, 'I get it' way, but with genuine affection. The performances were uniformly excellent, it looked fantastic and yes it was a 'slow' film, but I never found it less than engrossing. ... More

Posted by thatlittlemonkey at 13:45, 27 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier S**T

I enjoyed this. It was slow, not a whole lot happened and it dragged out the slimmest of plots for quite a long time....but it looked really good (well more authentic than good) and some of the performances were great. I didn't really find it a 'thriller' though to be honest as there wasn't enough to keep you guessing and no real clues to work with. It reminded me of good quality tv drama which is what it probably should have been. ... More

Posted by BelovedAunt at 11:59, 27 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier S**T

I did like it, but I need to watch it again. I didn't like it quite enough to see it again in the cinema though... Definitely a DVD job this. It had an amazing cast and acting though, and it really felt like it was from that time period. It was quite fun for the first 20-30 minutes just to spot all those well known faces ... More

Posted by Hood_Man at 22:15, 26 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier S**T

I'm going to see TTSS this week and cant wait! Although I i] plan to read the book as I generally like to compare film and literature. ... More

Posted by NinjaShortbread212 at 03:22, 26 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier S**T

L: moehat I was disappointed with the film, probably because the trailer was so awesome? Acting was superb but, for some reason I was enthralled by the period detail right from the start. Were there really speed bumps in London in the 1970's ? o, it is a factual error. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 01:30, 26 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier S**T

L: Nate_001 Quite simply this film disappointed me. It's not that it was too slow or too complex, it's just that nothing seemed to happen to fuel your interest in the story to make you WANT to stay focused. Well for me anyways. I will say however, even though Im not a fan of this movie, it saddens me that it has created a platform for smug pricks who followed the storyline and understood everything that was going on to act like, well, smug pricks. Yes this is aimed at some people her... More

Posted by Rgirvan44 at 01:13, 26 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier S**T

I was disappointed with the film, probably because the trailer was so awesome? Acting was superb but, for some reason I was enthralled by the period detail right from the start. Were there really speed bumps in London in the 1970's ? ... More

Posted by moehat at 01:09, 26 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier S**T

I simply dont get the smug allegation. If i "got" this,i was happy i enjoyed it. Being smug about it?Doesnt even make sense. ... More

Posted by thetruth at 09:24, 25 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Tinker Tailor Soldier S**T

say however, even though Im not a fan of this movie,dens me that it has created a platform for smug pricks who followed the storyline and understood everything that was going on to act like, well, smug pricks.is is aimed at some people here, as well as people on other forums IMDB etc. nd we're proud of it!111!!!! ... More

Posted by Deviation at 03:19, 25 September 2011 | Report This Post


Previous pageMore user comments

SPECIAL FEATURE
The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time EMPIRE READERS' POLL: THE 301 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME
You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
Models Inc.: The Inside Story Of Sideshow Collectibles
How the likes of Batman, Superman and Luke Skywalker become collectible figures

Classic Feature: Jack Nicholson - Gods Among Us
Charisma, consistency and cunning summed up in a single word: Jack.

The Empire Podcast #121: Brett Ratner Talks Hercules On This Week's Show
Plus The Purge: Anarchy producer Jason Blum pops in to talk horror

Frank Grillo's Ten Toughest Hollywood Tough Guys
The Purge: Anarchy star picks his favourite badasses

Role By Role With Joel McHale
The star of The Soup and Community on Spider-Man 2 and much more

'I Have The Club But I Didn't Get The Lion's Head'
Dwayne Johnson (and pals) talks Hercules props, action and ancient superheroes

Classic Feature: The Making Of The Silence Of The Lambs
Is this the most frightening movie ever made?

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time Subscribers' Cover

Subscribe today and get the cover and 3 issues for only £10!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 6 issues of Empire for just £15!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)