"Spy on our own spy as he searches for their spy? Yes, why not? -- sounds rather fun."
Some of you may recognise the above. It is a direct quote from General Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth. Irked as I am by prefacing sit-com episodes with the words 'the one where', I should explain that it is 'the one where' there is a spy among the troops and Blackadder is given the unenviable task of rooting him out.
Such is the task handed to Gary Oldman's George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, an adaptation of John Le Carre's apparently page-turning novel of the same name which was also turned into a successful television series starring Alec Guiness in 1979. Where Melchett fits in to all this is that frankly, I felt as utterly bewildered and clueless throughout the whole of this drab affair as Stephen Fry's brilliantly portrayed General is throughout much of the Great War. The Oscar talk has already begun regarding Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so it is likely that I have got it all wrong and it is the masterpiece that all of the billboards tell you it is. However, I have to report that I lost interest well before the half way mark and by the end, well it is no exaggeration to suggest that I was on the verge of sticking a pencil up each nostril and sticking a pair of pants on my head, such was my delerium amid the tedium.
This film is apallingly, chillingly slow. The basic premise is that there is a mole (and he lives in a hole) among MI6. Oldman is charged with uncovering the wretched traitor before the audience wakes up. In doing this, he has a series of hopefully mysterious and tense conversations with the main players. One of whom is Mark Strong's Jim Prideux, sent to Budapest by 'Control' (John Hurt) to meet Polyakov, who is Russian not Hungarian and has something to do with spying somewhere along the line. Jim makes the schoolboy error of getting himself shot but instead of suffering the altogether more favourable fate of dying there and then, he is sent back to England to teach French to, among others, a fat loner called Bill. At a point inbetween he is strapped to a chair and slapped with a pair of headphones from which only the screeching cries of a baby can be heard. It is supposed to be a method of torture aimed at finding out something or other which I am not quite sure of. If they wanted him to sing like a bird they should have just sat him down and made him watch the rest of this monstrous, excuse for a spy thriller.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy never comes close to thrilling. It excelled at confusing, but only due to the fact that the utter banality of the thing had forced me to stop listening to what was being said and start focusing instead on what I might want from the chippy on the way home. It lacks any kind of suspense or tension and the end, while a mild surprise, is hardly likely to have you leaving the cinema with a feeling of 'well I never'. More like 'well I wish I never'. And while we are at it can Colin Firth get any more smug? Every time he appears on screen not only in this debacle but throughout his career I have been overwhelmed with the urge to bash him over the head with a garden spade.
This review may not be of any higher standard than the film that is it's subject. I'm sorry about that but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy really is quite the most mesmerising rot and it has had a profoundly negative effect on me.