Written by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, based on the novel by John LeCarre
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch

I don’t have the head for movies or books about money. And I don’t have the instinct for movies or books about spies. Despite those deficits, the movies I have enjoyed most lately seem to concern one or the other. I have learned to sit quietly and wait for enlightenment to come. If it doesn’t come, I look for other things to watch and this film had plenty of bonuses for the unenlightened.

PLOT: I am wading into a quagmire here in trying to sum it up, but basically there’s a mole on the loose at MI-6 and one with access to the highest places. A mission to Budapest for information regarding the identity of this mole turns sour, alerting the Soviets that the mole’s presence if not his identity has been detected. Control (John Hurt) and Smiley (Oldman), as top-ranking officials, are dismissed after the Hungarian debacle. Of course, eventually Smiley is brought back in to sniff out the truth.

It might seem strange to say this, but it’s not really about the plot. Or if it is, the plot is basically a whodunit. What it was about is the perfect evocation of a certain milieu in the sixties, the seedy look of MI6 headquarters, the even seedier look of party the film keeps flashing back on, the loneliness of the lives, the paranoia of every character, the rarefied world they mistake for reality, the importance of music in grounding a plot. Rather than black and white, TINKER, TAILOR seems filmed in gray and brown. Color is drained from every scene and every face.

And these were the spies in the West! In swinging London, for Pete’s sake.

Alfredson, who also directed LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, has a great feel for how to evoke dread, in how to frame a shot, in how to depict unmet longing. He gets great performances from his actors, especially Gary Oldman who seems born to play Smiley even with the memory of Alec Guiness’ amazing performance in the 1979 mini series still in my head. Highly recommended.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.