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My impression from the book and movie, and from the spies I have known, is that it isn't as much about looking as about listening. Spies rarely see much first hand and even when they do, they can't always tell what they are seeing. There are specialists for that.

Tinker, Tailor always struck me as a charming puzzle of a tale. It could have been told without any physical backdrop whatever. All it needed was dialog. The challenge, as in so much spy drama, was to pay attention to what was said and, often, what was not said.

This may be because I read the book and watched the miniseries during the Cold War, when spying was about learning a lot given extremely limited information. It was all about making inferences. The USSR didn't have a wiki or even something like New York City's government green book. One had to listen to what people said and build a model that made sense. China was even more opaque or so it seemed.

More recently, I read another book from the Cold War, 'The Final Fall', by a French historian, Emmanuel Todd. It was written in 1979, and he studied the USSR with a historian's eye and gave it another 10 to 15 years. As Todd pointed out early in his book, understanding history is not unlike understanding an opaque political entity. The USSR had its censorship, its denied areas, its secret police. History had its own means of enforcing opacity. The methods of recovery were similar.

You are looking at Tinker, Tailor with a literature professor's eye. I viewed it through a genre lens. It entertained in a certain style, and it did a great job of capturing something of the era.

Cathie from Canada

So glad to see this review - so timely for me!
I saw this version years ago, and more recently re-read the book, so when this was on TV here a week or so ago, I recorded it but haven't watched it yet.
So now I'm looking forward to watching it again and seeing if I find the same nuances that you did.

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