Tinker, Tailor/Smiley’s People DVD boxset

DVD: ★★★★
Extras: ★★★★

As you’d expect from a famous old spy tale, appearances are deceptive here. Watch the opening episode of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy and it seems very dated at first. The pace is slow, the actors old, and the story and settings dingy.

First shown on the Beeb in 1979 (not 1982 as it states on the cover of this set), this dramatisation of John Le Carré’s story of betrayal is from an era when TV storytelling was less hectic and youth obsessed, and viewers were credited with some patience.

Alec Guinness
By episode two, the jolt of watching a series from 30 years ago passes and the strengths of this acclaimed production will get their hooks into most viewers. There’s the fantastic cast including Sir Alec Guinness in his first major TV role and last great part as traitor hunter George Smiley, along with Ian Richardson, Ian Bannen, Hywel Bennett, Beryl Reid, Joss Acland, Siân Phillips and Patrick Stewart, among others.

Once the characters and intricacies of the story are absorbed, the drama becomes tense and compelling, as Smiley, the cuckold and apparently clapped-out old intelligence man, is recalled from retirement to snare the highly-placed double agent working for KGB.

John Le Carré
Gary Oldman has just done a fine job of playing Smiley in this year’s movie version of Tinker, Tailor, but Guinness, who may have been a little on the old side for the role at 65, is still superb behind his large specs. A large chunk of his performance is with his eyes as Smiley is the great listener, carefully weighing the words of the professional liars all around him.

John Le Carré says in one of the excellent special features included here, the BBC documentary The Secret Centre, that he started writing Tinker, Tailor without Smiley in it, but soon realised that the old stager would bring the story alive and give it heart.

Smiley’s People
And Guinness certainly injects the drama with emotional depth despite his placid exterior, with the pain of his adulterous wife and his outmoded decency in the face of treachery always clear in his eyes.

Smiley’s People, which was shown in 1982 and features Smiley’s final confrontation with his brilliant rival Karla, is included in this boxset. Again there’s a tremendous line-up of acting talent on display (see below). Like the smoke-filled restaurants and Lada cars on show here, many of these characterful actors are no longer around, but this boxset showcases their wonderful performances in two rich dramas.

Alec Guinness George Smiley, Michael Jayston Peter Guillam, Anthony Bate Oliver Lacon, Bernard Hepton Toby Esterhase, Ian Richardson Bill Haydon, Ian Bannen Jim Prideaux, Hywel Bennett Ricki Tarr, Michael Aldridge Percy Alleline, Terence Rigby Roy Bland, Alexander Knox Control, George Sewell Mendel, Beryl Reid Connie Sachs, Joss Ackland Jerry Westerby, Siân Phillips Ann Smiley, Nigel Stock Roddy Martindale, Patrick Stewart Karla, John Standing Sam Collins, Thorley Walters Tufty Thessinger, Mandy Cuthbert Molly Purcell, Warren Clarke Alwyn, Susan Kodicek Irina.   
Smiley’s People: with Barry Foster Sir Saul Enderby, Michael Lonsdale Anton Grigoriev, Bill Paterson Lauder Strickland, Mario Adorf Claus Kretschmar, Curd Jürgens General Vladimir, Vladek Sheybal Otto Leipzig, Rosalie Crutchley Mother Felicity, Maureen Lipman Stella Craven, Dudley Sutton Oleg Kirov, Michael Gough Mikhel, Michael Elphick Detective Chief Superintendent  

Boxset supplied by BBCShop.com

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