Soldier, Spy (British Mini-series)
Sound: C+ Extras: C Episodes: B-
In 1979, the Spy Genre had a revival into the realm of the
fantastic, but many thought it went too far as exemplified by the James Bond
megahit Moonraker. As a result,
critics wildly embraced Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a Mini-series
based on the John Le Carré book and starring Alec Guinness as ultra-clever
agent George Smiley. That Guinness
returned to form so soon after his blockbuster stint as Obi Wan Kenobi in the
first Star Wars two years prior was lauded onto itself.
The six-part series has Smiley searching for a traitor at
the highest level of British Intelligence, dubbed “the circus” here. So the hunt begins. Of course, this is a Cold War era story, so
some of the tension is lost, plus some of the complaints I had when the series
initially aired remain. For one thing,
though more than a few people were expecting Smiley to use martial arts on some
old school traitors that sadly never happens.
Worse, Guinness is not in the series enough, despite the fact that he is
moral center of the search for the truth.
The few action sequences here are handled very badly, which I blame on
director John Irvin, who even had this problem when he did an outright action
film. That would be the 1986 Arnold
Schwarzenegger film Raw Deal, which failed to capitalize on his Terminator
success and did not help the fledgling DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group stay in
Also, this tended to still drag a bit and not be as tight
as even a deliberately paced Le Carré adaptation needs to be, such as the
recent feature film version of his Tailor Of Panama (2001) from director
John Boorman, a better director than most.
Another problem is that this tale feels like everything we have seen in
the genre before, no matter how well done or well cast it can be. It is still a solid work, even as dated as
it has become, which was more than even I expected. Le Carré (David Cornwall in real life) says in the 2002 interview
included on DVD 1 that this is still his favorite filmed version of his
work. At least they got the form right
and how can you go wrong with Guinness?
The full frame 1.33 X 1 image is not bad for its age and
the film elements have survived in tact well for the most part, but there are
some slight issues with detail and such an image in DVD can only go so far to
begin with. For DVD and considering the
dark schemes in which the series was purposely shot by the great Tony Pierce-
Roberts, B.S.C., who shot many of the best filmed British TV works of 1970s
before going on to feature films, especially for the team of
Merchant/Ivory. I wonder what a high
definition version of this series would yield?
The subtitles that do appear are 16 X 9/1.78 X 1 friendly, though the
DVD does not have a widescreen and/or anamorphic option. The original monophonic sound is here as
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono and is not bad, articulate enough to handle the
dialogue-based teleplay by Arthur Hopcraft.
The extras all included on the first DVD include the Le Carré interview
(27:28), production notes, cast filmographies and a bio and bibliography on Le
Carré. Even though the Cold War is long
over, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is worth another look, flaws and all.
- Nicholas Sheffo