Two minor observations about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

We caught up with the new movie version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It’s well worth your time. But, in our own fashion, we wanted to make a couple of tangent observations about the adaptation of the John Le Carre novel. Minor spoilers follow.

1. Anti-Bond George Smiley meets 007 knock off Charles Vine (sort of). In the 1960s, the success of James Bond films helped create a demand for an “anti Bond,” somebody who wasn’t a romantic hero and who dealt in a morally ambiguous world, just like real spies. The novels of John Le Carre (real name David Cornwell) provided the perfect fodder. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold starring Richard Burton came out in 1965, with George Smiley a secondary character, Bernard Lee (the M of Eon Productions’s 007 series) in the cast and Paul Dehn, co-screenwriter of Goldfinger, part of the crew.

The ’60s Bond films also generated 007 takeoffs, including The Second Best Secret Agent in The Whole Wide World, starring Tom Adams as Charles Vine, a Sean Connery-esque, British agent.

Well, in the new Tinker, Tailor, these two trends from the past are merged. The 2011 film has repeated flashbacks to an MI6 Christmas party. At one point, the theme song to Second Best Secret Agent is played. (Le Carre has a cameo, as well.) This is part of an effort by the filmmakers to tie into cultural references of the past, given that Tinker, Tailor is done as a 1970s period piece. Which leads us to:

2. The temptation to overdo past cultural references. This is a minor quibble. But when movies are done as period pieces — especially of a story that has been made before (Tinker, Tailor was made as a television miniseries more than 30 years ago) — there is a temptation to load up on past cultural references. In this case, hairstyles and music. In the new film, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) sports a haircut more appropriate for ’70s high school students rather than an experienced MI6 operative. And the film sometimes overdoes it with providing ’70s songs.

It’s always interesting to compare remakes done as period pieces with earlier versions made during the same era. Another example: Farewell My Lovely (1975) was done as a 1940s period piece and sometimes over does the culture references compared with Murder My Sweet (1944), both based off the same Raymond Chandler novel.

We want to stress all of these observations are minor. The new Tinker, Tailor is worth the time of any spy fan and Gary Oldman is a wonderful successor to Alec Guiness (star of two television miniseries) as Smiley. Oldman did an NPR interview last year where he said he’d love to play Smiley again if the opportunity presents itself. We’ll second that thought.

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