This seems to be a real Marmite movie, if Tweets and other comments elsewhere are to go by. Most of the people I know loved it with one or two notable exceptions. I am not one of those, I thought Tinker Tailor was absolutely great and I could have happily sat through the whole thing again as soon as it was over.

But first a little context. I am hugely fond of the 1979 BBC adaptation of the John le Carre novel which was six hours long and took a leisurely (but still fascinating) approach to unravelling the mystery of who the mole in MI6 might be. It starred Sir Alec Guinness who is in many ways a really hard act to follow. Like the film it had a wonderful cast of stalwart British actors just showing everyone how its done. And I watch it every so often because it really is that good. So the film had a lot to live up to. And succeeded.

I think the story of George Smiley hunting down a mole in the Secret Service is only a small part of what makes this a cracking story. It’s the way the atmosphere of the Cold War is captured. This isn’t glossy Spooks territory, it’s smoky rooms and disenchanted public servants (they may be spies but they’re still public sector employees which always makes me smile a little) and back-stabbing (figurative and literal) and physical danger. I’m not even going to explain the plot more that I already have done because for me this is really about the people, their rivalries and loyalties and the choices they make.

The highlights for me were:

  • Gary Oldman is brilliant in a not very showy part even though he is the “hero”; in fact he doesn’t speak for at least the first 20 minutes but my eyes were drawn to him whenever he was on screen except when….
  • … Benedict Cumberbatch was with him; I have become a huge fan, not just because of his role in Sherlock, and he shows what a good actor he is here, despite an atrocious haircut
  • Tom Hardy tackling Ricky Tarr, my favourite character in the TV series (played then by Hywel Bennett when he was still lovely)
  • Mark Strong is possibly the stand-out in a key role which he doesn’t over-egg at all – it’s always a good sign when Strong is in a film and he is never less than outstanding

One of the most enjoyable bits for me and the Book God was the Christmas party, scenes from which pop up all the way through the film. It is a ghastly event in many ways but really captures the often black humour of civil servants, and the amount of drinking and smoking is pretty accurate (though I am not old enough to have experienced anything other than the tail end of this culture, the Book God has a fund of stories that wouldn’t have been out of place here). Also accurate, sadly, is the lack of women; the only really fleshed out character is Connie (played by Kathy Burke).

The film is directed by Tomas Alfredson which is why I suspect it has a slightly European feel to it and the drab colour palette captures the mood really well. My friend the Semi-Scandinavian spotted at least one slightly obscure (to me anyway) musical cue in Control’s flat as the film starts and we have speculated how much other similar geeky treasure are in there that none of us have spotted.

So basically this is fabulous, just go and watch it, won’t you?