Opening 2 Feb 2012
John Le Carré’s espionage novel is a brilliant study of the tensions during the cold war in the 1970s and perfectly adapted by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, with scriptwriters Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, realising the atmosphere of a grey, foggy and shady London. In the old-fashioned, smoky rooms of the British secret service, the head – called Control (John Hurt) – is pushed into resignation after a Hungarian operation has failed badly. Control suspects a mole in the highest ranks. His right hand George Smiley (a compelling performance by Gary Oldman), who was forced into retirement with him, is secretly asked to investigate the rumour. His only help is young Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch). They follow the story of a rogue agent, Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy), who got himself into trouble by trying to bring beautiful Irina, a Soviet spy (Svetlana Khodchenkova), to London to identify the mole. The plot thickens, getting ever more confusing, highlighted with the background score by Alberto Iglesias. Is it Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Esterhase (David Dencik), Percy Allenine (Toby Jones), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) or some mysterious stranger?
Despite the slow moving action (or no action in comparison to a Bond movie, which might be too slow for some), Alfredson keeps the inner tension high. He relies on showing quiet despair, fear and humiliation in the faces of chain-smoking government men in ill-fitted suits. This classic spy thriller of counter-intelligence against the Russians, of ambition, loyalty and betrayal, is carried by an all star British cast, even in the smallest roles, and directed with a sure feeling for atmospheric details. It’s a welcome change to the loud and flashy action films so popular at the moment. (Birgit Schrumpf)