1979, TV

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)

If you thought the 2011 remake was deliberate well, this is a deliberate six episode miniseries adaptation of the John le Carre novel. It takes its time. And if that’s a problem for you, I highly recommend avoiding this version. But, if you are interested in TV adaptations of novels and you like slow-burning plots, this is very well done for the era.

This really does feel like an attempt to adapt the entire novel, as there are multiple flashbacks and there is also much of an episode’s worth of denouement. But it feels much closer to a complete story and I was constantly wondering about how much was left out of the movie remake. (It’s been 6 and 1/2 years since I’ve seen the movie.) The only thing feels much more novel-like than a movie and more of a complete story rather than a cool plot.

It’s pretty well made, too. It’s clear that British and European TV was mostly superior to American TV in the ’70s as it’s hard to imagine something of this quality on American TV. The opening scene is particularly great. Sure, there are silly moments – Scotland does a poor job of substituting in for Czechoslovakia and some of the overly filmic elements feel cheesy – but on the whole it’s well shot and well made given the constraints. Oh and a lot of it feels nearly naturally lit, though some of it clearly isn’t as well.

The score is a little derivative and a little much at times. (As if they weren’t sure if you would be aware something is important or “tense” without the score.) And the repetition of the cliffhanger scene from the end of each episode at the beginning of the next is really, really annoying. (Clearly bingeing wasn’t even a thought in 1979.) But these are nitpicks.

On the whole, if you can stand the deliberate pace, it is one of the more noble attempts of its era to properly adapt a novel. And it mostly works. Oh and it stars Alec Guinness, so there’s that too.


PS Did I mention a certain famous English actor has a wordless cameo? Both Jenn And I were like “Wow that guy really looks like [redacted]” and then IMDB revealed that it was indeed him.

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