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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Drama > Cold War > Mini-Series > British > TV > Smiley's People (British Mini-series)

Smiley’s People (British Mini-series)


Picture: C+     Sound: C     Extras: C     Episodes: B



Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979) was such a huge international TV success, that not only did it lead to the sequel Smiley’s People three years later, but landed one of the strongest casts you will ever see in any TV Mini-series anywhere.  Besides the return of Alec Guinness in the title role, the phenomenal cast included Eileen Atkins, Michael Gough, Vladek Sheybal, Curd (Curt) Jurgens, Michel Lonsdale, Ingrid Pitt, Eileen Atkins, Barry Foster, and a then-less knowns Alan Rickman and Patrick Stewart for starters.  When all was said and done, I was convinced that this sequel was more effective than the original, enduring better because we learn more about Smiley and his world in a way that defies The Cold War.


That is even when the final episodes are more tied into the former USSR, but one way to think of this is that the BBC & Paramount were willing to put more money into the production and this paved the way for Paramount’s more spectacular expenditures on Dan Curtis’ landmark Winds Of War, and even larger War And Remembrance mini-series (reviewed elsewhere on this site) that were cumulatively the peak of the mini-series forum.  It has been dead in the U.S. for the most part since the late 1980s, especially when overblown productions with little intelligence hijacked it.  In Smiley’s People, the pacing is solid and director Simon Langton has a better sense of both drama and action than John Irvin did on the previous series.  Guinness had grown stronger in the role and the finesse makes the introspective moments all the more effective.


When an old school Soviet Spymaster is shot, this would usually go as a celebrated event by The West, but the twist is that he was trying desperately to contact Smiley before his demise.  Smiley takes the cry for help seriously enough to see it not as a trap, but as a clue to something more sinister and grave.  Thus, he goes about traveling around Europe and other parts to uncover the truth as he also has to uncover more of his past and history than he ever anticipated.  That and the actual spy plot are handled in a most believable and balanced manner, and part of this can be accounted to the fact that the teleplay was co-written by author John Le Carré himself, with John Hopkins.  As was the case with his more recent involvement with the recent feature film version of The Tailor Of Panama, which is further evidence that his involvement with the adaptation always brings it an edge it lacks without him in most cases.  That is why Smiley’s People endures over two decades later, and is the kind of espionage work we rarely see anymore, especially in mini-series form.


The full frame 1.33 X 1 image is as good as the image from the previous mini-series, shot this time by cinematographer Kenneth Macmillan, and is more than worthy of the first series.  That says something, considering Tony Pierce-Roberts is such a master cameraman, but this is vivid.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 repeats the original monophonic sound, but is a little too compressed for its own good, which is odd considering it is a newer recording.  Whoever remastered the sound went a little overboard, the compression is interfering with the dialogue here and there.  Otherwise, this is a good presentation.  Extras include another interview with Le Carré done at the same time as the one for the previous set is as much of a must-hear as the first and runs 19:30, the same text information on the author as the previous Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy set and offers a new set of filmography lists for this cast.  Another nicely boxed set by Acorn Media of a key television work.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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