All The Queen’s Men: Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth & Tom Hardy
Tomas Alfredson’s aching spy thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the latest adaptation of John LeCarré’s famous 1974 novel, turns the machinations of Cold War espionage into a grand opera of survival. Like the dapper-dressed spies at its center, the film burrows underneath the façade of everyday life and explores an alternate, specialized universe pockmarked by hidden identities and repressed sexualities. Secrets and lies, cover stories and coded dispatches abound, all different modes of communication in a tense, shifting 1960s milieu one decade away from international détente.
The center of Tinker Tailor’ Soldier Spy’s dense mosaic is George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a semi-retired spy tasked with weeding out a mole at the top of Britain’s infamous MI6 branch of the government (nicknamed “The Circus”). Smiley makes for a fitting guide to traverse the upper echelons of the British intelligence community, a true observer and man of few words who pieces together this human jigsaw puzzle from the inside out. His journey is one long, graceful glide through a political space frozen by uncertainty and panic, where the details of time and place amplify every cryptic conversation and weathered facial expression. Textured wood grains, crisp suits, and faded wallpaper patterns make for intriguing signposts to an era slowly slipping from focus.
While Smiley’s secret investigation focuses on his former high ranking brass still currently entrenched at the Circus, a trifecta of snakes played by Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones, and Colin Firth, his own memories of the past begin to mix with the details of the present. His wife’s infidelity and a telling story about his Russian counterpart not only reveal more about Smiley’s predicament, but the collective ideological shift occurring right before his eyes. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy expands to include the memories and flashbacks of other characters, including conflicted field operatives played by Mark Strong and Tom Hardy. In each case, deceptions of the heart reveal themselves to be just as deadly as the betrayal of country.
Tinted grey and olive green, beguiling in it’s almost elemental focus on character subtext, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy utilizes the tumbling score by Alberto Iglesias and fluid cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema to construct a world of ideological and emotional veneers. Fittingly, Alfredson films the crisp exteriors of London and Budapest through lateral tracking shots, creating canals of strategic movement brimming with mood. The film’s interior sequences represent another world entirely, cramped and hazy rooms dissected by surgical slow zooms.
“Nothing is genuine anymore,” one spy confesses midway through Smiley’s investigation, lending a specific melancholy to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s intimate look at male friendship. Some characters survive, others perish, but all are moving chess pieces in a blue-hued European pastoral that feels incredibly alive even as it slides deeper into darkness.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is now in theatres