As you may be aware, Gary Oldman is set to reprise an iconic role originated by Alec Guinness. No, not Obi-Wan Kenobi (but wouldn’t that be awesome?). According to this article at the Guardian’s website, he’s going to play George Smiley, John Le Carre’s fictional spy, in a big-screen adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
The novel, published in 1974, was made into an excellent miniseries by the BBC in 1979. Guinness was Smiley, a sort of working-class spy, and he was brilliant in the role (also in its follow-up, Smiley’s People, in 1982). Oldman has some pretty big shoes to fill, but if anybody can give Smiley his own spin, while remaining true to Le Carre’s character, it’s Oldman.
But he and Guinness have company. Denholm Elliott, another fine actor, played Smiley in A Murder of Quality, a 1991 television adaptation of Le Carre’s 1962 novel. And James Mason played him in The Deadly Affair (1966), based on Le Carre’s first novel, 1961’s Call for the Dead. (For some reason they renamed Smiley “Charles Dobbs.”)
Several of Le Carre’s novels have been made into movies, with mixed results. Pierce Brosnan, who was still playing James Bond at, is excellent in The Tailor of Panama (2001), based on the 1996 novel. Sean Connery, the first and best Bond, is good — but merely good — in 1990’s The Russia House, from the ’89 book. Ralph Fiennes, always superb no matter what he’s asked to do, starred in The Constant Gardener (2005), based on Le Carre’s 2001 novel. And Dianne Keaton is miscast in 1984’s The Little Drummer Girl, a confusing adaptation of the 1983 book.
Some first-rate directors have tackled Le Carre’s books: George Roy Hill, John Boorman, Sidney Lumet, Martin Ritt. Tomas Alfredson, who’s doing the new Tinker, directed Let the Right One In, a chilling and highly acclaimed vampire movie. If he can achieve a similar level of realism and intensity with the Le Carre novel, he should have another winner on his hands.