Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the TV miniseries based on the novel, see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (miniseries).
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Poster.jpg
UK release poster
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
by John le Carré
Music by Alberto Iglesias
Cinematography Hoyte van Hoytema
Edited by Dino Jonsäter
Karla Films
Paradis Films
Kinowelt Filmproduktion
Working Title Films
Distributed by StudioCanal UK
Release dates
  • 5 September 2011 (2011-09-05) (Venice Film Festival)
  • 16 September 2011 (2011-09-16) (United Kingdom)
Running time
127 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $21 million
Box office $80,630,608[1]

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a 2011 Cold War espionage film directed by Tomas Alfredson. The screenplay was written by Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, based on the 1974 novel of the same name by John le Carré.

It stars Gary Oldman as George Smiley, along with Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciarán Hinds. Set in London in the early 1970s, the story follows the hunt for a Soviet double agent at the top of the British secret service.

The film was produced through the British company Working Title Films and financed by France's StudioCanal. It premiered in competition at the 68th Venice International Film Festival. It was a critical and commercial success and was the highest-grossing film at the British box office for three consecutive weeks. The film also received three Academy Awards nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and for Oldman, Best Actor.

The novel had previously been adapted into the award-winning 1979 BBC TV miniseries Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.


Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) is sent to Bulgaria to evaluate a member of the Russian Trade Mission who might be vulnerable to being tapped as an asset. Tarr recognizes that this individual, Boris, is in fact, like himself, a “Scalphunter”: a spy who is responsible for dirty stuff – assassinations, kidnapping, beating people up, etc. Tarr’s about to head back to England when he witnesses Boris beating up his wife, Irina. Tarr has a hunch that Irina might be vulnerable to working for the British, but it turns out she’s actually an intelligence operative who tells him she knows the identity of a Russian-planted mole in the upper echelon of the Circus, the upper organization of the British Intelligence Services. She’s unwilling to reveal who this person is until she’s brought out West.

Tarr contacts the Circus with this information. Almost immediately, Russian operatives kill Boris, and Irina is beaten comatose and put on a Russian flagged freighter bound for Odessa. Additionally, the British station agent is murdered, with his death framed on Tarr. Tarr knows the mole in the Circus is onto him and goes AWOL to avoid being killed.

Later, Control (John Hurt) has become aware of the mole in the Circus. He has been suspicious for some time of a source developed under a program called “Witchcraft” run by one of his deputies, Percy Allenline (Toby Jones). This suspicion is verified when Control is contacted by a Hungarian General organized in Hungary’s Intelligence services who is willing to provide the name of the mole as a prelude to becoming a high level British source. Control sends a trusted agent, Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Budapest to meet with this general. Prideaux ignores his instructions “not to trust anyone” and reveals his mission to Bill Haydon (Colin Firth).

Prideaux has been instructed, as soon as he meets with the general, he is to communicate to Control one of five code words (based on a children’s rhyme) the identity of the mole. Tinker for Percy Alleline, Tailor for Bill Haydon, Soldier for Roy Bland, Poorman for Esterhase, and Beggarman for Smiley.

Prideaux gets to Budapest, but recognizes that he’s being set up. When he attempts to escape, he’s shot by a Hungarian agent. Although it’s been reported that he has died, he has in fact been nursed back to health, interrogated, and repatriated secretly to the United Kingdom, where he’s begun teaching under an assumed name at a boarding school. He’s also seen Irina shot in front of him, although he had no idea who she was.

But before we get to the point that Prideaux’s been nursed back to health, the Circus’s communication room is exploding with word of what’s happened in Hungary. An officer named Jerry Westerby (Stephen Graham) had been assigned by Control to monitor communications for word from Prideaux. When Westerby tells Control that Prideaux has been apparently killed, Control becomes distant. Westerby begins calling the deputy heads, starting with Smiley. However, Smiley’s wife Ann informs Westerby that Smiley is away in Germany. Ann, who is rather serially unfaithful, passes what Westerby’s told her to Bill Haydon (who is in bed with her), which explains why Haydon arrives at the Circus without Westerby contacting him.

(Interesting side note: “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is the first of the so-called “Karla Trilogy” which pit George Smiley against Russian spymaster Karla. The second book is “The Honourable Schoolboy”, and Jerry Westerby is the honourable schoolboy of the title).

As a result of this cock-up (Control had gone outside of all channels to keep the mission secret), Control is forced out. He also forces George Smiley (Gary Oldman) to step down with him. He knows Smiley is not the mole because Smiley was in Germany when the Prideaux operation happened. Additionally, he believes Smiley is the best person to identify the mole, and communicates this to Oliver Lacon, who oversees the intelligence services on a Parlimentary level.

Lacon (Simon McBurney) doesn’t believe Control, he feels Control was paranoid. He just files the information away. Meanwhile, Ricky Tarr has re-entered England. He contacts Lacon and tells him what happened in Bulgaria, and urges Lacon to investigate the matter through his supervisor, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch). Lacon enlists Guillam to bring Smiley to a meeting, where Lacon explains Control’s theory about a mole. Smiley agrees to identify and bring out the mole, and enlists Guillam for his dirty work.

Smiley learns more about Witchcraft, which is the program Alleline (who is now head of the Circus) has been running. Witchcraft is designed to protect a British source code named “Merlin” who is passing intelligence to the British. Merlin is a top placed source in Russian intelligence. To communicate with Merlin, the Circus has established a safe house in London. The existence of Merlin is restricted to Alleline, Bland, Esterhase, and Haydon, who provide him mostly junk intelligence, with the occasional beefy report, to keep Merlin’s supervisors in Moscow convinced he’s still on their side.

In reality, the information Merlin is feeding the British is mostly junk, with the occasional beefy report. Meanwhile, high level intelligence is being passed to Merlin by the mole, with Merlin transmitting that information to Moscow.

Paranoid that Control and Smiley were trying to take control of Witchcraft before their dismissal, Alleline and Esterhase became very protective of their source and dismissed members of the intelligence services who got too close to his identity, such as the case with researcher Connie Sachs (who later tells Smiley that she is decidedly “underfucked”). Sachs is aware that the Russian cultural attache Polyokov acts as the funnel of information to and from Merlin, but believes Polyokov is in reality a member of the Soviet military, after finding footage of uniformed officers saluting him while he is in civilian clothes. She tells Alleline she suspects Polyokov is a Karla operative, and is dismissed from the service. Esterhase pays a sum of money to Prideaux after his relocation and tells him to “forget Tinker Tailor”, but believes Tinker Tailor was a scheme of Control’s to identify Merlin.

Tarr makes contact with Smiley and explains what happened in Bulgaria. To verify his story, Guillam is told to steal the duty officer’s communication log from the Circus. Guillam is able to accomplish this with some help from Medley (first introduced in LeCarre’s first novel, “Call for the Dead”). Guillam thinks he’s been caught when Esterhas calls him to a meeting with Alleline, Blunt, and Haydon, who warn him that Tarr has been turned.

Arriving at Smiley’s, Guillam is surprised to see Tarr, who he hasn’t seen since before Bulgaria. Guillam believes Tarr is a traitor until Smiley asks Tarr if he knows precisely what day he contacted the Circus about Irina’s information on the mole. Tarr answers that he knows the day: November 20th. Smiley shows Guillam the log book, where the page for November 20th has been carefully removed. Tarr is telling the truth.

Smiley sends Tarr to Paris to force the mole’s hand. Tarr is willing to do this, but wants Smiley to do everything he can to have Irina brought to England. Smiley has already determined Prideaux is alive and debriefed him and is convinced Irinia is dead, but does not tell Tarr. Smiley is able to force the location of the safe house from Esterhase.

In Paris, Tarr barges into the British Intelligence Office with a gun, and instructs them to send a message to the Circus, repeating his message from Bulgaria. The four top men of the Circus are called in to headquarters, but it’s Bill Haydon who goes to the safe house, with a message to Karla to have Tarr eliminated, where he’s captured by Smiley & Guillam and admits to being the Soviet mole.

Haydon admits to Smiley that he seduced Ann on Karla’s orders. Karla was afraid that Control was onto Haydon, but didn’t know how close he was. By seducing Ann, Smiley wouldn’t be able to trust his feelings on Haydon, and any accusation might appear as sour grapes. Haydon is going to be deported to Russia, but is shot and killed by Jim Purdeaux, who were close friends in the past.

Alleline is dismissed from the Circus, and George Smiley is made the new head of the Circus.




The project was initiated by Peter Morgan when he wrote a draft of the screenplay, which he offered to Working Title Films to produce. Morgan dropped out as the writer owing to personal reasons, but still served as an executive producer.[2] Following Morgan's departure, Working Title hired Peter Straughan and his wife, Bridget O'Connor, to redraft the script. Park Chan-wook considered directing the film, but ultimately turned it down.[3] Tomas Alfredson was confirmed to direct on 9 July 2009. The production is his first English language film.[4][5] The film was backed financially by France's StudioCanal and had a budget corresponding to $21 million.[6] The film is dedicated to O'Connor, who died of cancer during production.


The director cast Gary Oldman in the role of George Smiley, and described the actor as having "a great face" and "the quiet intensity and intelligence that's needed". Many actors were connected to the other roles at various points, but only days before filming started, Oldman was still the only lead actor who officially had been contracted.[7] David Thewlis was in talks for a role early on.[8] Michael Fassbender was in talks at one point to star as Ricki Tarr, but the shooting schedule conflicted with his work on X-Men: First Class. Tom Hardy was cast instead.[9] On 17 September 2010 it was confirmed that Mark Strong had joined the cast.[10] Jared Harris was cast but had to drop out because of scheduling conflicts with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. He was replaced by Toby Jones.[11] John le Carré appears in a cameo as a guest in a party scene.[12]


Blythe House, the exterior of "The Circus"
The Párizsi Udvar in Budapest, the setting for the Hungarian café scene.

Principal photography took place between 7 October and 22 December 2010.[13] Studio scenes were shot at a former army barracks in Mill Hill, North London.[6] Blythe House in Kensington Olympia, West London, was used as the exterior for "The Circus."[14] The interior hall of Budapest's Párizsi Udvar served as the location for the café scene, in which Jim Prideaux is shot.[15] Empress Coach Works in Haggerston was used as the location for the Merlin safe house. Other scenes were filmed on Hampstead Heath and in Hampstead Ponds, where Smiley is shown swimming, and in the physics department of Imperial College London. The exterior shots of the Islay Hotel, a run-down hotel described in the film as being near Liverpool Street station, which Smiley uses as a base, were shot in Wilkin Street, London NW5.[citation needed]

The events which take place in Czechoslovakia in the novel were moved to Hungary, because of the country's 20% rebate for film productions. The teams filmed in Budapest for five days. Right before Christmas the team also filmed in Istanbul for nine days.[6] The production reunited Alfredson with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and editor Dino Jonsäter, with whom he had made his previous film, Let the Right One In.[16]


The film took six months to edit. The final song in the film, a rendition by Julio Iglesias of the French song "La Mer" set against a visual montage of various characters and subplots being resolved as Smiley strides into Circus headquarters to assume command, was chosen because it was something the team thought George Smiley would listen to when he was alone; Alfredson described the song as "everything that the world of MI6 isn't". A scene where Smiley listens to the song was filmed, but eventually cut to avoid giving it too much significance.[17][18]

Heard at a Circus office party, sung along to by the guests, is "The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World", composed by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen and performed by Sammy Davis, Jr., from the 1965 British spy spoof, Licensed to Kill.


Gary Oldman at the Venice Film Festival for the premiere of the film

The film premiered in competition at the 68th Venice International Film Festival on 5 September 2011.[19] StudioCanal UK distributed the film in the United Kingdom, where it was released on 16 September 2011.[20] The US rights were acquired by Universal Pictures, which have a permanent first-look deal with Working Title, and they passed the rights to their subsidiary Focus Features. Focus planned to give the film a wide release in the United States on 9 December 2011, but pushed it to January 2012 where it was given an 800 screen release.[21]

Critical response[edit]

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy received generally positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes sampled 206 reviewers and judged 83% of the reviews to be positive. The site summarised the film as "a dense puzzle of anxiety, paranoia, and espionage that director Tomas Alfredson pieces together with utmost skill".[22] Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating in the 0–100 range based on reviews from top mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 85 based on 42 reviews.[23]

Jonathan Romney of The Independent wrote, "The script is a brilliant feat of condensation and restructuring: writers Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O'Connor realise the novel is overtly about information and its flow, and reshape its daunting complexity to highlight that".[24] David Gritten of The Daily Telegraph declared the film "a triumph" and gave it a five star rating,[25] as did his colleague, Sukhdev Sandhu.[26] Stateside, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, "As Alfredson directs the expert script by Peter Straughan and Bridget O'Connor, the film emerges as a tale of loneliness and desperation among men who can never disclose their secret hearts, even to themselves. It's easily one of the year's best films."[27] M. Enois Duarte of High-Def Digest also praised the film as a "brilliant display of drama, mystery and suspense, one which regards its audience with intelligence".[28]

Detractors of the film included Peter Hitchens of The Mail on Sunday, who wrote that the plot would be too baffling for viewers who had not read the book, and that the film's makers had "needlessly messed it up".[29] David Edwards of the Daily Mirror wrote, "The big question – and one le Carré himself asked when the film was announced – is whether such a hefty novel can fit comfortably into a feature-length production. In answering this, the writers have pared things back, meaning it's far pacier than the seven-part TV show. Unfortunately, the plot is every bit as bewildering with an overload of spy-speak, a few too many characters to keep track of and a final act that ends with a whimper, rather than a bang."[30] Writing in The Atlantic, le Carré admirer James Parker favourably contrasted Smiley with the James Bond franchise, but finds this Tinker, Tailor adaptation "problematic" compared to the 1979 BBC mini-series. He writes "To strip down or minimalize le Carré, however, is to sacrifice the almost Tolkienesque grain and depth of his created world: the decades-long backstory, the lingo, the arcana, the liturgical repetitions of names and functions".[31]

Box office[edit]

The film topped the British box-office chart for three consecutive weeks,[32] and earned $80,630,608 worldwide.[33]



While doing press for Working Title's Les Misérables film adaptation, producer Eric Fellner stated that fellow producer Tim Bevan is working with writer Straughan and director Alfredson on developing a sequel. Fellner did not specify if the sequel will be based on The Honourable Schoolboy or Smiley's People, the two remaining Smiley novels in Le Carré's "Karla Trilogy".[43]


  1. ^ "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) - Box Office Mojo". boxofficemojo.com. 
  2. ^ Radish, Christina (14 October 2010). "Screenwriter Peter Morgan Exclusive Interview". Collider. Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  3. ^ Lee, Rachel (29 March 2012). "Park Chan-wook stalks a thriller with 'Stoker'". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  4. ^ de Semlyen, Phil (9 July 2009). "Tomas Alfredson to Direct Tinker, Tailor". Empire. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  5. ^ "Tomas Alfredson to direct Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy". Screen Daily. 9 July 2009. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c Tutt, Louise (8 December 2011). "How to tailor a spy classic". Screen International. Retrieved 11 December 2011. 
  7. ^ Hoskin, Peter; Mason, Simon (23 October 2010). "Interview – Tomas Alfredson: outside the frame". The Spectator. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  8. ^ White, James (8 July 2010). "Cast Confirmed For Tinker, Tailor". Empire. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  9. ^ Goldberg, Matt (3 September 2010). "Tom Hardy Replaces Michael Fassbender in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy". Collider. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  10. ^ Anderton, Ethan (17 September 2019). "Mark Strong Lands a Role in 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'". FirstShowing. Retrieved 26 September 2011.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. ^ Goldberg, Matt (22 October 2010). "Jones Replaces Harris in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Hurt, Graham, Lloyd-Pack, Dencik, and Burke Join Cast". Collider. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  12. ^ Solomons, Jason. 20 August 2011. Trailer Trash: John le Carré makes a cameo at an MI6 Christmas party The Observer
  13. ^ "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy". Screenbase. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  14. ^ "Film London – September 2011 – Blythe House". Film London. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  15. ^ Goundry, Nick (13 September 2011). "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy films Cold War Europe in London, Budapest and Istanbul". The Location Guide. Retrieved 12 March 2012. 
  16. ^ Ramachandran, Naman (7 December 2010). "Alfredson shoots 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'". Cineuropa. Retrieved 1 June 2011. 
  17. ^ Gradvall, Jan (3 December 2011). "Tomas Alfredson: Jag avskyr intryck just nu". di.se (in Swedish). Retrieved 11 December 2011. Julio Iglesisas version av La Mer blir allt som MI6-världen inte är. 
  18. ^ French, Phillip (17 September 2012). "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 February 2012. 
  19. ^ "Venezia 68: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Tomas Alfredson". labiennale.org. Venice Biennale. Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  20. ^ "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy". Screenrush.co.uk. Tiger Global. Retrieved 1 June 2011. 
  21. ^ Brevet, Brad (29 August 2011). "Ugh, No 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' Until December". Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  22. ^ Staff (2011). "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 7 July 2012. 
  23. ^ "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  24. ^ Romney, Jonathan (18 September 2011). "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". The Independent (London: INM). ISSN 0951-9467. OCLC 185201487. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  25. ^ Gritten, David (5 September 2011). "Venice Film Festival: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – first review". The Daily Telegraph (London). ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  26. ^ Sandhu, Sukhdev (15 September 2011). "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – review". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 22 October 2011. 
  27. ^ Travers, Peter (8 December 2011). "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 17 March 2012. 
  28. ^ Duarte, M. Enois (20 March 2012). "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Blu-ray)". High-Def Digest. Retrieved 20 March 2012. 
  29. ^ Peter Hitchens (21 September 2011). "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Travesty". The Mail on Sunday. Retrieved 25 September 2011. 
  30. ^ Edwards, David (16 September 2011). "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy movie review: Thriller is impressive – but not so entertaining". Daily Mirror (London). ISSN 9975-9950. OCLC 223228477. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  31. ^ Parker, James (December 2011). "The Anti–James Bond". The Atlantic. Retrieved 6 February 2012. 
  32. ^ "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: United Kingdom". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  33. ^ "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy". Box Office Mojo. Amazon. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  34. ^ Eng, David (20 June 2012). "2012 Amandaprisen, Norwegian Film Awards – nominations". Chino Kino. Retrieved 18 August 2013. 
  35. ^ "The American Society of Cinematographers Nominates". The ASC. 11 January 2011. Retrieved 15 January 2012. 
  36. ^ Kilday, Gregg (3 January 2012). "Art Directors Nominate Movies as Different as 'Harry Potter' and 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 15 January 2012. 
  37. ^ "Amour vince il premio della critica di Borgogna". Film e dvd. Retrieved 18 August 2013. 
  38. ^ "International Online Film Critics Poll unveil nominees". Flickering Myth. 1 December 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2013. 
  39. ^ "International Online Film Critics Poll declares 3rd edition winners". Flickering Myth. 20 December 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2013. 
  40. ^ "I vincitori del Premio Cinema Ludus 2012". cinemaitaliano.info. 
  41. ^ Ferraro, Pietro. Il Cinemaniaco (11 June 2012)
  42. ^ Carla Cicognini, Cineblog.it (30 June 2012)
  43. ^ Chitwood, Adam (11 December 2012). "Producer Eric Fellner Talks; Says Tomas Alfredson and Screenwriter Peter Straughan are Working on it "As We Speak"". Collider. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 

External links[edit]