FILMS… A Reminder of John Hurt in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy



An All Brit cast, in a Cold War espionage film headed by John Hurt…


In a tribute to John Hurt, George Smiley must investigate to catch a spy working in a senior role in British Intelligence.


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Official US Trailer, Tinkertailormovie’s channel


Just recently, one of Britain’s great character actors, John Hurt passed away. I’d only just recently seen him at the cinema in the Oscar contender Jackie (2017). In this film, he played opposite Natalie Portman as the recently widowed, Jackie Kennedy. Playing her priest and counsel, no one else could have fitted this role so well. His Irish accent spot on. Portman’s voice, however, was more difficult to get used to, and she sounded not her usual self at first. Until I heard the real Jackie Kennedy.

Anyway, that review may come someday, as after hearing about Hurt’s passing I rewatched my favourite of his films, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011). Hurt opens the film in his character as Control, the Head of the Circus (British Intelligence) in the early 1970s. He calls in Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to his home, and invites him in, only if he’s not been followed.

Control tells Prideaux he understands that there is a Russian spy within British Intelligence, working in a highly ranked post. He wants Prideaux to go to Hungary, to meet with a Hungarian general who will tell him the man’s identity. On going there, the meeting takes place, the general is shot and Prideaux is left for dead.  

A Civil Servant working for British Intelligence, then calls in George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a man recently retired (and separated from his unfaithful wife) to find out more. Control’s fears are also substantiated by spy Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), who has also heard of this mole through a Soviet source. Control passes away due to illness.

Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) takes over Control’s old job with Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) as his Deputy. They and other main suspects – Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) and Toby Esterhause (David Denick )- however, have recently joined together to form Operation Witchcraft.  This group exchange Soviet information for information from the Americans.

They are seeking some off-the-record funding for this, as their Soviet source needs a safe house from which he works. With the help of Sherlock Holmes Peter Guillam and Trigger Mendel (Roger Lloyd-Pack), Smiley investigates more.. with many twists, turns and flashbacks. Smiley finds out more when he searches through Control’s home finding he has named these suspects, Tinker (Alleine), Tailor (Haydon), Poorman (Esterhause), Soldier (Bland) and Beggarman (George Smiley).

I loved this British All-Star lineup, John Hurt in his small role was believable as the Control as the Head of the Circus. He suited the role well and portrayed Control as a man passionate about his job and the security surrounding it. He had been an original choice for Smiley, and I feel he would have equally suited this role.

But then what actor would have had the presence and gravitas necessary for Control, a small but highly significant character? When Hurt as Control opened the door to his upheaval of a home with papers and books everywhere at the start of the film, it made you feel passionate to find the mole alongside him. To catch the spy. Hurt’s portrayal of this character made you want to pore over his ideas, papers and theories with him.

Toby Jones as Percy played a dour Scot and this role suited him well as a weasely wee man who seemed to be untrustable at times. Much was seen of his Tinker role in contrast to that of the Soldier and Poorman roles. I felt more scenes with these suspects would have increased the storyline and made it more of a whodunnit. Characters played by more high profiled actors, Firth and Jones got more screen time and at times it felt more of a two-horse race.

Much of the screen time also was shared by Hardy’s part in the story as Ricki Tarr which could have been easily condensed. So perhaps Hardy was for the benefit of dates dragged to see an all-male starring (with the exception of Kathy Burke) ensemble spy movie. 

I found it engaging and interesting. This film made me yearn to see the earlier BBC version of this 1974 version of John Le Carre’s book, starring Alec Guinness in the Smiley role and learn more about Le Carre himself. However, Oldman was a great Smiley and totally deserved his Best Actor in a leading role nomination. He made him an interesting character as much of his personal story is also told as the story develops.

The film has a gritty seventies feel about it, that reminded me of Life on Mars (2006-8) and I half expected Philip Glenister as Gene Hunt to make an appearance. However, with this cast, Bill Nighy would have been more likely. It led us to rooms with garish wallpaper, smoke-filled meetings and sideburns aplenty. It was great in spotting the who’s who of the cast and they made a great ensemble cast.

I was happy to read that Michael Fassbender and Jared Harris had dropped out, as that cast later appeared much more suitable. Harris is too nice and much more trustable looking or maybe I’m biased after seeing him as a lovely character in The Crown (2016-). Fassbender. Just. Not. Hardy. And reading more about this film, I learnt John Le Carre makes an appearance too… but can you spy where he turns up?



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