Austere vision of Cold War betrayal

FILM TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (MA)  Selected release (128 minutes)

FILM TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (MA)  Selected release (128 minutes)

BLEAK, melancholy and quietly absorbing, this film adaptation of John le Carre's novel stands up well alongside the classic TV mini-series of 1979. With considerably less time to allow the narrative to unfold, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One in) has a distinctive vision and a strong sense of space and place, with a script, by Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, that distils things elegantly and watchfully.

There's a deceptive pace to the movie, which feels both slow-moving and dense. Scenes of concealment, deception, discussion and negotiation are punctuated by set-pieces of tension and urgency. It's not an action film indeed, it's almost an inaction film but there is a tangible, charged sense of unease and uncertainty.

Gary Oldman (below) plays the Alec Guinness role of George Smiley, former British agent, called out of enforced retirement to investigate the possibility that there is a highly placed Russian agent at the centre of British intelligence.

Events take place in the rarified, austere world of MI6.

Alongside Oldman is a strong ensemble cast, notably Colin Firth, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy. Oldman's Smiley is a painstaking, impassive observer, keeping thoughts and feelings to himself, as he unravels a story of bad faith, bureaucracy and betrayal that stretches back decades.

This version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy could easily have been a period piece, an evocation of retro chic and Cold War cool, but it's nothing of the sort it surveys its material with cool detachment, in which distance lends disenchantment to the view.

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