Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy miniseries: fantastic

Bear with me if this is old news to some of you - I was ten when this came out, and I wasn’t exactly digging into the LeCarré back then. However, I’ve read all his books over the last few years, so when I saw the miniseries while surfing for movies to add to my Netflix queue, I added them without really knowing anything about it.

What a great surprise! I thought it was hands-down the best adapataion of LeCarré I’ve ever seen. Tailor of Panama and Russia House are the others I’ve seen, and they were OK, but I didn’t get the “feel” of LeCarré while watching them, and other than Edward Fox I thought they both suffered from uninspired casting.

Not this time. Alec Guinness was pitch-perfect as George Smiley. The funny thing is, I always pictured Smiley as being fatter, but Alec Guinness looked heavier than I was used to seeing him, so he pulled it off.

All supporting characters were flawless - Connie, Toby Esterhase, Peter Guillam, Lacon, Percy, Bland, Ann - all as I pictured them.

Another great perk was seeing all of these character actors that I recognized looking 20 years younger. The guy from Waking Ned Devine (Ian Bannen) as Jim Prideaux, Joss Ackland (you’d recognize him) as Jerry Westerby, Mr. Book from Dark City / Mr Warren from Brazil (Ian Richardson) as Bill Haydon.

But the best part - appearing as Karla and not saying a single word during his one scene (the flashback where he takes George’s lighter): Patrick Stewart. :cool:
If you’re looking for a good miniseries to rent, look no further. Smiley’s People is up next in my queue, and it appears as though it’s the same production and actors - sweet. (I didn’t see The Honourable Schoolboy, so I guess they didn’t make that one).

I just watched the whole thing a few weeks ago and couldn’t agree more. Other than that, I have nothing to add except that Smiley’s People is even better! Enjoy.

Smiley’s People is as good. You have a treat in store. Beryl Reid’s scene is amazing and sad. I don’t think Guinness was ever better than in these series, and that’s saying quite a bit.

Count me in as well for both Tinker , Tailor and Smiley’s People . I watch both series (and re-read the books) at least a couple of times a year and have just up-graded from video to DVD . As with most DVDs there are extras , including an interview with John le Carré.

The BBC did a third mini-series based on A Perfect Spy . This is an non Smiley spy story and is supposed to be semi-autobiographical , especially the shady businessman / con artists based on le Carré’s own father. I have this on video and it stars Peter Egan , Ray McAnally and Peggy Ashcroft.

I hate to jump on the bandwaggon but this series is easily my favourite of all time. I don’t know when it was broadcast here, probably 15+ years ago but I’ve never forgotten what an impact it had on me. In my opinion everything was spot on with the production. It’s a shame the Beeb doesn’t seem to do anything like it any more.

Just thought I’d update this thread now that I’ve seen Smiley’s People. Again, just fantastic. All the same actors from the first one. (Except Peter Guillam, but I thought the replacement actor did a good job - he was the evil general from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

Just like the first one, it was a blast seeing all of these well-known character actors fitting in perfectly to the roles new to this book. As the General - the Bond villain from The Spy Who Loved Me - as Grigoriev, another Bond villain - the one from Moonraker.

Absolutely nailing his one scene as Saul Enderby was the killer from Frenzy.

Returning as Karla was Patrick Stweart, who again said not one word. Didn’t speak in the entire 12 hour series.

And in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role as the hotel concierge was an extremely young Alan Rickman.

That scene was amazing. I backed up watched it about three times before continuing. It’s like some sort of master class in acting.

All in all, this was the best miniseries I’ve ever seen and the best adaptation of ANY books I’ve ever seen. I can’t more strongly recommend adding it to your Netflix queue. The way they were able to create exactly what I had envisioned was astounding. Take the final scene as Karla crosses the bridge - they may as well have hacked into my mind and recreated it frame by frame.

I’m bummed this crew never did The Honourable Schoolboy.

My favourite scene in Smiley’s People is the one where they pull the Russian diplomat off the street in Bern and make him “an offer he cannot refuse”. The change of mood from hostility and bluster to full co-operation is masterful . Full marks to Michael Londsdale (as Grigoriev) for his acting.

I love LeCarre’s Smiley books and cannot wait to see these miniseries; I swear I’m hard right now.

I remember when Guinness died and an obituary writer described *Smiley’s People * as Guinness’ artistic apex.

A Murder of Quality (le Carre’s second book, with Denholm Eliot as Smiley) and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold are also available through Netflix, FYI. I have them cued up to watch when I finish Smiley’s People, which I am two episodes into now.

And I must confess, I’m not enjoying it as much as Tinker, Tailor. Maybe it’s because le Carre worked on the screen play for Smiley, but it seems so far that they mostly just shot the book. And the changes they did make seem to either ruin some of the mystery of the novel or render characters or events in the novel completely extraneous, yet they still appear onscreen. But, I will persist.

The first, pre-credit scene of Tinker Tailor: without speaking, four men assemble in a cramped, badly-decorated, gloomy office. They sit down, shuffle papers, fetch cups of tea. The last man in closes the door. Finally they’re all ready. Still, no-one has said a word. Then the man at the top of the table looks up and says “Shall we begin?”. It’s at least 3 minutes, static camera, no action, no dialogue, no information of any kind. And that’s the opening scene to something advertised as a gripping spy thriller.

I was completely hooked. Jack Bauer’s got nothing on this.

Oh, yes, I recall watching Tinker, Tailor when PBS ran it however many years ago. Superbly acted, superbly paced, it grabbed hold and never let go.

No TV miniseries ever gripped me so thoroughly until I discovered Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect.

[repeated] “There are three of them, and Alleline.” Pitch perfect, and almost a verbatim adaptation from le Carre’s excellent novel.

This thread is more of a zombie than a long-disavowed scalphunter, though.


The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is a great book, and a great movie, starring Richard Burton.

I wasn’t aware of this TTSS. I’ll have to see if my local video place has it. You might think that sounds crazy, but they carry a lot of British TV series.

Also don’t forget to look out for Smiley’s People just as good as TTSS.

Another miniseries I’d recommend to those who like this sort of thing: Reilly: Ace of Spies

It’s a fantastic opening. And I love Hywel Bennett’s scene introducing Ricki Tarr at, IIRC, the end of the same episode: “I’ve got a story to tell you. It’s all about spies.”

“And if it’s true, which I think it is, you boys are gonna need a whole new organisation, right?”

Tinker, Tailor obviously derives much of its inspiration from the Cambridge Five spy ring and Kim Philby’s devastating betrayal of the Secret Intelligence Service and a lot of the “product” passed to them from the CIA, as well as disclosing critical information about the US nuclear weapon stockpile to the Soviets. The public disclosure of Philby’s defection pretty much caused the British intelligence apparatus to be rebuilt from the ground up, doing even more damage than the Church Committee Hearings did to the CIA and FBI in the Seventies.


To which I might add that a fortnight after Tinker, Tailor completed its run on the BBC in November 1979, Anthony Blunt was revealed as the Fourth Man by Margaret Thatcher.

To which I in turn might add that a perfect sequel to the above recommendations is A Question of Attribution, with James Fox as Blunt, Prunella Scales as QEII, and a typically dry, witty and tight script by Alan Bennett. Not to be missed.

I also second Reilly: Aces of Spies, Sam Neil’s international debut and simply wonderful.