Reading the Screen: More Tinkering with John Le Carre

tinker-coverAs 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.



About the Author:

David Pitt lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In addition to reviewing for Booklist, he writes a monthly column about paperback fiction and nonfiction for the Winnipeg Free Press. He has contributed to The Booklist Reader since 2010.

2 Comments on "Reading the Screen: More Tinkering with John Le Carre"

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  1.' Keir says:

    Tantalizing news. Oldman is always watchable, and Let the Right One In is one of my new favorite movies. Can’t wait to see the results!

  2. Bill says:

    Oldham is good, but I can’t abide the idea of anyone else playing George Smiley: Guinness defined the role to such a degree that even le Carre once said he saw the actor in his mind when he imagined his own character. Disagree just a bit, too, with the notion that Sean Connery was “merely good” in Russia House. I’d argue that’s one of the best le Carre movies (and one of the best post-Smiley novels),and Connery is the best part: the individual human being who takes on the bureaucrats and wins.

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