In an earlier post, I had highlighted some librarian films about to be released, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) and mused that “it might be fun to do some posts about my first impressions in the theater, and follow up with more in-depth analysis later on.” So here we are, with my first impressions of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, an adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel and remake of the 1979 British miniseries.
Note: I have not yet seen the 1979 miniseries, starring Alec Guinness, but I have it on order through my local public library.
I was super psyched to watch this film. It had entered my radar by way of Colin Higgins’s Libraries at the Movies blog, and I strongly suggest reading his reviews of the miniseries and recent adaptation. The trailers looked AWESOME and there was something hypnotic about the way Gary Oldman’s voice said the title, like a spine-tingling nursery rhyme (see below). And I do love spy thrillers, especially British ones, and especially especially ones that make you think.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy came this close to living up to my expectations. First off, Gary Oldman as George Smiley, the aging agent forced out of MI6 but called back in to investigate a mole, is fascinating to watch even when he doesn’t appear to be doing anything onscreen. And the director, Tomas Alfredson, is clearly talented at setting a mood — which was also evident in his Swedish child-vampire film Let the Right One In (remade in the U.S. as Let Me In). The film also features the excellent acting of Benedict Cumberbatch (he of Sherlock fame) as fellow agent Peter Guillam — and frankly, it’s always fun to write or say Cumberbatch’s name out loud.
However, I always felt like I was rushing to understand what was going on. And I kept getting names and faces confused. (Gotta admit, I was a little relieved that Roger Ebert expressed a similar feeling at the end of his review.) I’m looking forward to watching the miniseries, where there is scope to understand all the characters and what’s really at stake. Because at the end of this film, at the reveal of the all-important MacGuffin, I was left with a niggling “So what?” question of doubt.
And so what of the library and librarians? A shot of the library was included in the trailer, where you get a fleeting impression of multiple levels of bookshelves and lots of iron banisters. I remember liking how near the beginning of the film, the camera followed a woman’s hands placing a large book in a kind of dumbwaiter and then up the pulley into a level far above. In that first shot, with the closeup of the hands, you could spy rows of bookshelves behind her. I thought this was an effective way of using the library as an establishing shot of tone and location.
Later — about 2/3 through the film? — Smiley sends Guillam into “the lion’s den” to retrieve a smaller MacGuffin, some vital records that proved something or other (click to see scene above). Is it wrong that I smiled at comparing a library to a lion’s den? And we meet two reel librarians, a man and a woman. Or at least I think there were two librarians. The man had more screen time and more lines, I think, but I remember the woman. Probably because I noticed that she was the same actress, Laura Carmichael, who plays Edith, the scheming middle sister on Downton Abbey. Wearing a dark red turtleneck that contrasted with her red hair, she acted a bit nervous and breathy, like her character really fancied Guillam and wanted to impress him. And, of course, he probably knows that she fancies him but has no interest in her whatsoever. ANYWAY.
So armed with some complicated directions provided by the female librarian, off Guillam goes into the library archives. With NO supervision or guidance, I might add. I couldn’t help thinking how lax this was for a top-secret organization to send people off, alone, in the closed stacks. There’s a reason behind closed stacks, folks. Closed stacks are usually reserved for archives or other important records — you know, like for records used in an organization involving spies and super-secret info, perhaps? — and librarians get the items and therefore maintain order and organization and privacy. But whatever. Of course it was necessary for Guillam to be alone in the library stacks. He needed to be in order to succeed at swiping the records he needed and the plot to move forward. Chalk it up to suspension of disbelief.
Final verdict? Overall, I enjoyed the film — a solid B+ for me. And I look forward to watching Alec Guinness’s interpretation of George Smiley’s inscrutability in the 1979 British miniseries. Stay tuned…
- Peter has to get a document from the circus in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (filmonair.com)
- Tinker, tailor, soldier, librarian (librariesatthemovies.blogspot.com)
- Some thoughts on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979) (librariesatthemovies.blogspot.com)
- Sights unseen (theage.com.au)
- Sweet anticipation (reel-librarians.com)