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26 March 2012


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I watched this film last night. Although the performances were flawless, the story line was difficult to follow. (I had not read the book.)

I've always wondered how anyone could have still believed in the Soviet Union after the Purges.



Watch it again. Le Carre's plots are alwayshard to follow. pl


Col. Lang:

Thank you. I was imprinted with the Alec Guinness version and had avoided watching the remake for fear that it would not be faithful to the story.

FB Ali

I agree -- a great flick! And Oldman as Smiley is well-nigh perfect. That one and only time he shows emotion/anger (at Bill Haydon, right at the end) was a superb bit of character delineation. As a great fan of Le Carre, I found this movie wonderful. Of course, no film can capture the excellence of his books.

William R. Cumming

While not a part of the espionage world except as a Battalion S-2 for 14 months in FRG in late 60's, I find the bureacratic gamesmanship superb in this film. Thanks for the review PL. I just watched the BBC version of "Smiley's People" again and often wonder why and how the Tenet's and Pannetas of the world have been allowed to run the CIA. Both are serious POLS not INTEL community types. But perhaps the highly bureacratized CIA is not in fact any longer an INTEL organization but just a paramilitary work around to allow unrestricted and unaccountable drone usage.
Perhaps am wrong. I have personally known 5 former CIA station chiefs in their retirement. Gravitas marks them. I wonder about today's cadre!


Kim Philby has always been a hero of mine, he did a lot to prevent the cold war turning hot in the late 40's and early 50's as the Soviet leadership had first rate intelligence of what Western capitals were thinking hence no fear of a surprise attack.

Philby was asked just before he died what he felt about betraying people. He replied that he had never betrayed anyone, he was a straight penetration agent and if the British secret service was stupid enough to believe his cover story then that was their fault.

Medicine Man

"had to make a choice because the West is just so rotten." -- I wonder if they just didn't know the Soviet Union well enough.


A memorable film but if you have read the book you might be a bit unsettled by Jerry Westerby as a scouser and Irina being played by some hot chick Russian "model/actress"

Their version of Budapest in the early '70's does not ring with my memories. While what really pissed me off was the greatest British actor of this age, Colin Firth, deliver yet another performance with a voice that sounds like someone who was born deaf. You will never beat Ian Richardson as Bill Hayden.

MI6's real life HQ in the '70's Century House did not look as grotty as shown in the film. (it's now a block of luxury flats and is totally unrecognisable) however Le Carre does make reference to it smelling of boiled cabbage and having a problem of the windows blowing in during a storm.


I've had the BBC miniseries sitting around for several years now, but have yet to find the time to watch it. Any thoughts on that compared to the new movie, Col. Lang?


This movie came out around the time SST was discussing the death of the CIA Station Chief in Kabul. Col. Lang used the phrase "hard-hearted empath" as the main characteristic of a successful spy handler. Smiley's handling of Ricky Tarr in TTSS struck me as a perfect example.


Thanks for the review, Colonel, I'll now go see it.

To answer your question, Matthew, I travelled extensively behind the Iron Curtain roughly around this period of time. It wasn't what you would have expected. There was order, food, drink, absolute cleanliness in cities, no crime, free healthcare, no protests (the likes of which were rampant in U.S. cities at the time, political assassinations, domestic terrorism, no racism, etc.

Would I wished to move there? No. America is my home, and my mother's side of the family has lived here since the last ice age. But I could see how there could be believers in that other system, before their economies tanked in the next decade.

One more anecdote: when the Wall fell, a number of beautiful East Berlin women showed up in San Francisco, becoming our girlfriends. One was an intellectual that still believed in that system and missed the old order.

So I can tell you that you can't believe absolutely everything you read in textbooks and magazines, or Hollywood.


Unfortunately, it wasn't a very faithful reproduction of the book, so, for me, it wasn't very enjoyable. There was no need for the writers to do things like make Peter Guillam gay, or change the way in which Smiley et al leveraged Toby Esterhase. And let's not mention the mangling of the Ricky Tarr storyline.


Seconding that. I didn't get everything out of the novel until I'd read it a good two-three times.

My dad got me interested in le Carre when I was younger and there was a couple of years when I tore through nearly all of his books. A Perfect Spy might be the most heartbreaking story I've ever read.


Be aware that "Communism" was regarded as a worthwhile and legitimate experiment in human organisation at the time the moles were recruited. The awfulness of the Soviet Union was not yet apparent to the "true believers". The cost of an Aristocratic system in terms of lives in World War One and the dangers of fascism were also uppermost.

This is not a justification for what they did, merely an observation of the dangers of allowing idealism to overcome loyalty to ones country. Zionists and libertarians take note.

According to a now departed relative, Sir Maurice Oldfield polished his glasses with his tie.


Thank you PL for an excellent, informative and obviously authoritative review. I have dithered about going to see this film up till now, but after that review I can't wait to see it.
Especially liked that you made it seem like what I prefer to call a "European Style" film.

I agree with your assessment of his other film -- "Let the Right One In" -- it was creepy and haunting and stayed with me for a long time.


I saw this movie and liked it very much. But I cant help thinking the BBC mini-series was better. Probably nostalgia talking.

Pirate Laddie

WRC's comment about a highly bureacratized CIA not in fact any longer being an INTEL organization is depressingly close to my read. Several years in the IC convinced me that DIA (especially the folks in the Americas shop, my principal counterparts) and INR were carrying their share of the collection & assessment work, but our more ideologically rigid friends up river were primarily a conduit for jobbing out Executive branch questions to sundry high-cost contractors. None quite like Stratfor (as far as I knew), but still often unable to deliver more than a clipping service.


For the Guinness version John le Carre was invited to the BBC's then Drama Department on Shepherd's Bush Green and asked by the director what the interior of The Circus looked like.

He gazed around the BBC's early 1950's office warren and replied - "Pretty much like this." That's where it was filmed.


I do remember those temporary buildings from when I first arrived in D.C. in the late 1950s.

Weren't they located where the VN Memorial and Constitution Gardens now are, and were called something like the Naval Annex?


@PL: Americans, in general, are too intellectually sterile to create such a film or to follow the dialogue.

movie industry merchandisers won't allow it.


Thank you for the movie review. I would really like to see this one but I'm afraid I would have Matthew's problem and find it hard to follow. Maybe I should read the book first.

Larry Kart

It was OK IMO, but the BBC-Guinness version is superb -- very true to the book in detail and tone (the new version for some reason makes Peter Guillam gay) and superbly cast right down the line. Of course the BBC TV series had much more time to work with, but then LeCarre's plot needs a good deal of time in which to unfold.

As for the Swedish director, I found his work OK again but at times rather prosaic. Check out the work of David Fincher, for one -- "Zodiac," "The Social Network," etc. -- if you want to see far superior movie-making from an American director.


I have read everyone of LeCarre's books and loved them. I will watch this movie, as soon as Netflix sends it. I had to watch Let the Right One In because it was in Swedish and several people around me had read the book. But they did not like it when I laughed at something said in the movie that was not in the subtitles.

I agree that it was creepy but it was fun watching places that I recognized. I spent my childhood in them. Alas, I do not remember any vampires. At least not any real ones.


Anyone who remembers the dilapitated temporary buildings that housed much of the CIA on the Mall along Constitution Avenue...

and @Bart ... Naval Annex?

Was the Naval Dispensary also in those buildings?


Keep. It for weekend in November (presuming you are in a cold bit of the northern hemisphere) so you can sort of follow it in real time to pick up more of the atmosphere. it's not completely faithful to the book, for example Ricky tarr meets Irina in lisbon. However the acting is far bette and shows that a production can achieve a lot more with less

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