Political Paranoia Reloaded

in 22nd Stockholm Film Festival

by Katharina Dockhorn

The Prize of the FIPRESCI Jury of the 22nd Stockholm International Film Festival went to the British-French-German co-production Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by Tomas Alfredson. The film opened the festival and was part of the program “Open Zone” showing a wide range of films from the festivals of Berlin, Cannes and Venice in 2011.

Espionage thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a marvellously chilly adaptation of the Cold War thriller written by much acclaimed author John Le Carre, published first in 1974 and adapted for the screen by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor.

Its Swedish director Tomas Alfredson shows again his well-known, considerable talent for making classic genre movies. He started as a director for Swedish television in the 1990s. His first feature film was Kontorstid, made in 2003, followed by Four Shades of Brown (Fyra nyanser av brunt) one year later.

He is best known internationally for directing the 2008 vampire film Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in). After these critical and box-office successes he declared that he is tired of the Swedish television and film industry.

His political thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is an interesting study of the disenchantment, political paranoia and tension of the 1970s spy game. In the centre is resigned MI6 lieutenant George Smiley (excellently played by Gary Oldman). Le Carré described the character as “small, podgy, and at best middle-aged; he was by appearance one of London’s meek who do not inherit the earth”. He is regarded as a good observer of human behaviour and so he is ordered by the British government to investigate the possibility that a mole in the upper echelons of the secret service is passing secrets to the Soviet Union. This agent is specifically blamed for betraying a senior agent of the service who was supposed to meet a dissident in Budapest. He and some spies were gunned down by Hungarian and Russian officers.

Smiley and his young assistant Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), head of the so-called scalp-hunter division of field operatives, follow in the footsteps of “Control” (William Hurt), the former leading man, who had probably committed suicide, in a world of corrupted camaraderie. On Control’s list of suspects are five men of the inner circle of the service. The first two are Percy Alleline (Tony Jones), whose codename is Tinker, and self-confident Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), known as Tailor, who had been having an affair with Smiley’s wife. Under suspicion is also the stolid Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), named the Soldier. But is the Hungarian-born Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) the Spy? Or is it Guillam, who survived Soviet prison? An exciting game begins and every man of the service seems to play his own game, buoyed up by selfish ambitions and overestimation of their abilities.

Alfredson brought together an extraordinary cast. His adaptation is rich in atmosphere, achieved by the visual expertise of cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and perfect production design. He portrays the secret service as an institution full of overambitious agents distrustful of each other and living in their own colourless world of cigarette smoke and unpleasant offices.

The masterpiece premiered at Venice, with global release dates from autumn 2011 through winter 2012.