In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced out of semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet Agent within MI6's echelons.In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced out of semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet Agent within MI6's echelons.In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced out of semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet Agent within MI6's echelons.
Being very familiar with all three of the 'Karla' novels I have a few, very minor, quibbles as to casting and editing, but nothing that gets in the way of great enjoyment of the finished product.
Guinness was born to play Smiley, as others have already noted. I can't get enough of his laconic humor and monk-like habits. Simply with subtle, hardly discernible facial expressions, Guinness intimates vividly the mysterious, dangerous past Smiley has endured... and all the vile things he's had to do in the cause of, as he would put it, what is Right. Alexander Knox is fabulous as the "little serpent" Control, "No man's child" as Smiley's says of him. There are other "perfectly" cast parts in this adaptation. Anthony Bate's smarmy, infuriating Lacon is absolutely hateful at his every appearance, just as he is supposed to be; a sign of the masterful nuance of Mr Bate's performance. I also like Bernard Hepton's Toby Esterhase, though he exhibits more humor than the character actually possesses in the book.. but what a fine actor he is.
Michael Aldridge plays Percy Alleline as an exquisite, bureaucratic boob who will do anything, in the modern political way, to get to the top, purely for ego reasons. I also found Ian Richardson's Bill Hayden to be a fine fit between actor and character. Some of the smaller roles are done very well too. Fawn, played by one Alec Sabin, is the spitting (mental) image of the character as described in the book. A quiet, diminutive killer.
All of the acting is first rate but the actors are often a far cry from the physical descriptions in the books. Beryl Reid is wonderful as Connie Sachs, though not LARGE enough. Her scene is so fore-shortened in the film script that it hardly matters anyway. The same can be said of Ian Bannen who turns in perhaps my favorite performance in the whole thing, after Guinness's Smiley. But Bannen does not fit the description of Jim Prideaux very closely. However he is fully inside the character of the poor man he's portraying that it hardly matters if his hair is the wrong color.
The only bit of miscasting (in my opinion) was that of Michael Jayston as Peter Guillam. Jayston is too po-faced and humorless, overplaying the underlying traumatic neurosis Guillam has endured in his career. Jayston's limitations stand out slightly next to his co- horts but he's good enough to hold his own, up to a point. And he does rise to the occasion when the part demands something more substantial from his character, but Michael Byrne, the Peter Guillam in 'Smiley's People', seems much more in line with LeCarré's character from the books.
The great disappointment of the 'Smiley' series is that the BBC balked at filming in Hong Kong, choosing instead Lisbon. It works but it would have been so much better as LeCarré originally envisioned the story. By the same token it is a great loss to our lives that they skipped 'The Honourable Schoolboy' altogether, choosing to jump ahead to 'Smiley's People'. I assume that filming in Hong Kong (primarily), Vientiene, Bangkok, Phnom Pehn and Saigon was financially too daunting. A great shame all the same, especially when they had such a fine Jerry Westerby as Joss Ackland in 'Tinker, Tailor...'
In sum... the Smiley mini-series is a keeper to watch again and again.
- Jun 9, 2005