With a cast that includes such major British talent as Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch, Tomas Alfredson’s (of Let the Right One In fame) adaptation of John Le Carré’s 1974 spy novel was sure to get critical attention. And indeed, returning from this year’s Venice Film Festival, the reviews of the film could not have been better. ‘Riveting’ ‘sumptuous’ and ‘absorbing’ glittered pages of 5 star reviews across the board.
Expectation was high as I entered the theatre. As a lover of the James Bond franchise, my experience of Cold War era spy films has been solidified in a certain sexy, stylish, Bond-esque way. Therefore the sobriety and weight of the drama was somewhat unsatisfying to me. Although the acting was, without a doubt, superb from all parties, I found the structure of the narrative difficult to keep up with (perhaps the film was too intelligent and grown-up for me?) and overall found it quite humourless and cold. There was sex but it wasn’t sexy, there were beads of sweat but it was neither chilling nor thrilling.
The story revolves around the hunt for a soviet spy, a mole, in MI6. Paranoia runs deep in the circle of officials; full of secrecy and corruption. Phones are tapped; everyone is a suspect. It becomes harder and harder to communicate, and the lives of the agents become a dangerous game; russian roulette or chess or cards dealt by poker-faced espionage veteran, George Smiley (Oldman).
The drama is intense, classy and concentrated. It’s slow-paced and pitch perfect. Just don’t go expecting anything glamourous. There are no cool clouds of smoke, edgy lipstick wearing dames or smooth-talking gents in trench coats, just the crinkled face of John Hurt holding a droopy cigarette in a dank office in rainy London. Alfredson brings something sharp to the proceedings, where everything is grey and grim and it’s not only the Russians who hold that steely glare of a cold-blooded killer.