I spent last night watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the 2011 movie with Gary Oldman. Excellent film. But I have the original 1979 BBC, Alec Guinness serial on DVD, and after watching the Oldman effort, I had to watch that.
Can’t make my mind up. The movie is good, but at slightly over six hours, the TV serial is inevitably more detailed and in my judgement better for it.
Both Guinness and Oldman underplay George Smiley. Oldman has a slight edge(IMHO) perhaps because he was a little younger than Guinness when he played the part.
There are others who were not as persuasive. Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t quite as threatening as Michael Jayston in the part of Peter Guillam. Playing Control, John Hurt is more idiosyncratic than Alexander Knox, but on the other hand, Ian Bannen turns in a better Jim Prideaux than Mark Strong. I also preferred Beryl Reid’s interpretation of Connie to Kathy Burke’s. When it comes to their respective turns as Bill Haydon, I’m torn between Colin Firth (2011) and Ian Richardson (1979). (Spoiler alert) Both were completely unapologetic for their treason, but Richardson was slightly more ‘who gives a toss’ and when it came to Jim Prideaux taking his revenge, Bannen’s approach was infinitely preferable to Mark Strong’s
That’s not to say that there was anything inferior about the performances in either version, and it may be that these observations are a factor of my age. The 2011 film is an excellent example of condensation, squeezing every element of the plot into its two hour time span, and it fits perfectly into the 21st-century drama/thriller genre.
By the same token, the critically acclaimed 1979 serial was a masterpiece of its time… my time, and for that reason, it has a slight edge.
I bought John le Carre’s original novel from a department store in Tampa, Florida, and read it in one sitting on a 10-hour flight home. Le Carre’s enviable writing style demands absolute concentration, and let’s face it, when you’re crammed into a cigar tube with 400 other passengers for that length of time, you need some kind of distraction, and the in-flight movies were as crap then as they are now
Whether you prefer the novel, the TV serial, or the movie, they both give a more realistic insight into the grim and seedy world of international espionage than James Bond and the tidal wave of similar, comic book, adventures which cashed in on 007’s itchy trigger finger and love of gadgets.
The upshot of all this?
I’m currently reading Smiley’s People, thinking about buying the DVD of the 1982 BBC serial, and waiting for the sequel to the movie.