Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy [Miniseries] (UK, 1979)

A1WACSSoK4L._SL1500_Directed by: John Irvin.This story, more than any of the George Smiley stories, is often touted as the “greatest spy story ever told”, or “greatest spy story of our time”, or something similar. I can really only compare John Le Carré’s novel and this adaptation to James Bond, the only other spy stories I’m familiar with, but the utter restraint and straightforwardness with which this story is told definitely make it the most intelligent and mature spy story I’ve ever seen (or read). The masterful Alec Guinness, of course, carries most of the weight, his hangdog demeanor hinting at wisdom, melancholy and some dampened form of zeal and cunning all at once. At six episodes long, this miniseries does pretty faithful credence to the source (and fans love that shit). Even on its own, it’s a really well done, evenly paced, thoroughly explored narrative. As with the novel, I definitely found myself yawning at moments and asking myself, “wait a minute, why am I watching this?” It’s not that I didn’t like it, per se, but the high drama, the high stakes—there’s a mole!!! Horror of horrors!!!—that basically informs the entirety of the drama, didn’t really grab me. Maybe, as a product of my time, I’m immune to Cold War stories: unlike the characters in the story, and the contemporary audience, I know how the Cold War ends. I’ve always known how the Cold War ends. And as interesting as I find that particular conflict, maybe I’m just incapable of being drawn into it as a suspenseful drama. That being said, Le Carré’s novel is perhaps the best telling of that particular story, and this TV miniseries is a worthy adaptation.

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