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« Evil-eyed creatures | Main | The cold winds that blow through The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo blow through the hearts of its main characters »


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Janelle Dvorak

Well done!


Your piece makes me want to see the movie again - like, this weekend - framed through your observations. That's the highest praise I can give any review.

I've always held Gary Oldman kind of suspect, even though I like him. Going into the film, my question was, as always, 'What does one do with Oldman, exactly?' This movie answered that question for me.


Brilliant review, Lance.

Hi, Lance --

I'm still trying to get a second viewing of TTSS before I write my response, but I did want to give you a thumbs-up on this:

“what little real romance there was seemed always to come at the expense of someone outside the affair, when betrayal itself was romantic.”

This is a long-standing Le Carre maxim: Love is whatever you haven't betrayed -- yet. It first starts appearing pretty explicitly in the Karla trilogy [although you could argue it's there implicitly in Call from the Dead and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (another story that would stand up to a good re-make); I suspect I'll have to do some reading to document it], and it continues Russia House, the last of his cold-war novels.

That bleak premise is always on the mind of the Smiley of the novel and the BBC series. Same, arguably, with Gerald the Mole. But, as you say, that motive is cleanly stripped away from Oldman's Smiley. [And from the mole.]


p.s. Thanks for the first plausible-sounding explanation for the eyeglasses scene too, which so far I've considered fascinating but inexplicable.


I haven't seen this movie yet, although it's on a short list of ones I will see soon. I never caught the TV series, although I of course read the book, being a big La Carre fan. I enjoyed the review above and look forward to having an opinion in the near future.

Cathie from Canada

Very interesting and well written piece.
I don't understand how they can leave Anne Smiley out of it -- she is central to the whole plot and the betrayal theme is personal, due to her, as well as on a professional level.
If there was one weakness in the Alex Guinness casting, it was that he made an unlikely love object for Anne. So I was looking forward to the Oldman interpretation because I thought he might come across as a more likely lover for his Anne. Alas, not so.

Ralph H.

I thought Alfredson did a pretty good job, given the limitations of a 2-hour movie vs. a longer miniseries (e.g., there really was no room for Anne Smiley, or developing the characters of the mole candidates, which did so much for both the novel & miniseries). The most striking thing to me, having internalized the novel (very great indeed) and seen the miniseries, was the new film's wholly unique take on the "Circus" -- far from what I imagined, and quite a unique environment, virtually a character in its own right.


Nice piece, Lance.

Just to show what a smart-ass I am, Smiley was also played by Rupert Davies in The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (minor part, of course Alec Leamas was the focus) and by James Mason in Call for the Dead (though the character was not actually called Smiley but something else).

I was on top of Le Carre back in the '70s, so the TTSS book and BBC series was fresh and new and god-awesome at the time. And Anne didn't appear until the last two minutes of the last episode -- and when she appeared, she was absolutely gorgeous Sian Phillips!

I'm sure I'll love the new film when I finally see it, but I know it simply won't have the same pull for me that the series did back in '79...

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I became suspicious of the writing in this film when Oldman-as-Smiley tells Guillam the story of meeting Karla. At the beginning, Oldman does a great job of showing us that he is visualizing the encounter. And then...he tears up. George Smiley would never be overtly emotional that way. I knew the script was off the rails when Toby (fka "Esterhazy" now "Esterhouse" what's that all about?) starts crying "I'm loyal!" Compare that to the way Toby's character reacts in the BBC series: As soon as he realizes Smiley has him nailed, he smoothly switches his tone with "If there's anything I can do of a practical nature..." That's how spies behave. They don't burst into tears.

Similarly, the closing scene of Smiley sitting at the big chair to applause...that is a complete misreading of Smiley's character.

The visual beauty of the film, as far as I'm concerned, just brings the poor conception of the characters into greater relief.

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