Year Released: 2011
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch
(R, 128 min.)
"Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes." John le Carré
Forget Jason Bourne’s death defying chases, or James Bond’s wit and savior faire. As in real life, the significant events in this classic espionage film are in muted greys, shadows gliding past us without revealing their true significance.
But that’s what one should expect when dealing with real British spies, the kind MI5 and MI6 intelligence officer David Cornwell rubbed elbows with during his service in the 1950s and 60s. When he turned to write about that life under the pseudonym John le Carré – “John the Square” in French – he showed the spy world as he saw it, dark and gritty, where loyalties and honor were not always clear-cut.
His iconic hero, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is quite different from the young insouciant James Bond invented by Ian Fleming, that other veteran of the Secret Intelligence Service. Bond works for Her Majesty’s Secret Service – a name that at once implies both loyalty and an old fashioned kind of romanticism. Smiley inhabits the same realm, but this high echelon in MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service is known simply as The Circus.
No, this has nothing to do with the flying trapeze or tight rope walking except in the figurative sense. In reality, “circus” as it is used here is that purely British appellation for a roundabout intersection, this one being Cambridge Circus, the fictional locale of British spy headquarters in le Carré's work.
But forget any happy notion that the name Smiley or Circus might convey. George Smiley never cracks one. Described by Mr. le Carré as looking like “one of London’s meek who do not inherit the earth,” his face might best be characterized as Winston Churchill once did Russia, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."
Perhaps that is why Gary Oldman, an actor’s actor, is so perfect for the iconic role. Director Tomas Alfredson, best known for his excellent work in the Swedish vampire film, Let the Right One In notes, “ Gary has all the star quality, yet he is also a chameleon. He doesn’t have this voice that you would recognize through a wall.” Exactly what one really wants in a good intelligence officer. No “My name is Smiley, George Smiley” escaping his sealed lips.
And sadly, he doesn’t really have a way with the ladies, either. Smilely’s wife Lady Ann, is the one with the unbridled libido. We learn of an earlier betrayal in flashbacks, a few hurried liaisons with none other than Bill Haydon, one of Smiley’s colleagues in the inner circle, played with just the right blend of dashing cavalier glamor by Colin Firth, who abandons the stuttering shyness of a tongue-tied monarch that won him the 2011 Oscar for The King’s Speech.
Oldman’s face as he portrays Smiley remembering this double betrayal is flawless, his pain hidden behind a mask of apparent tranquility. Oldman shows the same subtlety as he loses his position in the Circus when he and his chief, Control (John Hurt), are terminated over a botched operation in Czechoslovakia. In a bold move the camera shows us only the back of Smiley's head, where just a slight twitch in his neck evidences this life-altering event.
But Smiley is soon called back into service to ferret out a "mole," a double Soviet agent who has infiltrated the highest level of the Circus.
Each suspect has a code name assigned by Control, who has since died in the hospital from an assumed disease, although some sort of foul play is not ruled out. The code names recall an English nursery rhyme.
Rich Man, Poor Man,
Beggar Man, Thief.
Since all of these suspects are at the top, Smiley must recruit help from the lower levels, his chief assistant in this area being young Peter Guillam, played by Benedecit Cumerbatch –recently seen in War Horse and starring in the title role in the wonderful new Sherlock Holmes Masterpiece Mystery series set in contemporary London. Now he is the submissive but resourceful young bureaucrat instead of a self-described “high functioning sociopath” gleefully traipsing around modern day London on the heels of a serial killer.
Another character, Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) fades from the screen early on. He is the victim who is shot in the back during the failed Czech operation. Yet, that too, is merely a feint. Prideaux survives, though he is tortured by his Soviet captors and then abandoned as damaged goods by the British MI6. Yet he is part of what George Smiley labels -- talking to Bill Haydon in the book though not in the film –“…perhaps the most famous partnership the Circus ever had: you and Jim, back in the old days. The Iron Fist and the Iron Glove.”
Yes, Tailor –Haydon’s code name due to his sartorial magnificence – in spite of his affair with Smiley’s wife, does indeed have a complex relationship with Prideaux. Some have labeled Tailor bisexual, though whether or not there has been anything physical between him and Prideaux is never clarified. Perhaps it is a remnant of the special sometimes-platonic love that existed between young men at all-male British schools.
Appropriately, Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy is swathed in rain, fog, and great amber waves of tobacco smoke, making the audience work as hard as Smiley to cut a way through to clarity. For those real aficionados of the genre – not the stereotyped glamorous Cloak and Dagger pretenses – this is a rare treat not to be missed.
Though the characters and setting of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are British down to the abundance of very stiff upper lips, the action that sets everything in motion in takes place at a café in Prague. Poor Jim Prideaux never gets to enjoy his coffee or what would inevitably be served there – a tender, flaky, mouth watering kolache.
I know of such things, due to the large Czech population here in Texas. These Tex/Czech pastries are nothing like the little finger cookies that masquerade as kolaches in other parts of the USA. Our recipe comes from the Texas Monthy via Nita and Freddy Gerik.
Yes, this is an involved recipe, but hey I’ve been going easy on everyone lately with those lovely satisfying Cocktails I’ve been pouring for you. If you’re luck enough to live in Texas, just hurry on down to your locale Lone Star Kolache franchise.
Enjoy, and you won’t even have to watch your back, which is what poor Jim Prideaux should have done.
Published often in The West News of West, Texas, this recipe comes courtesy of Nita and Freddy Gerik, longtime residents of West who answer the Westfest information line in their home. According to them, Mrs. Jerabek’s recipe is very reliable.
- 2 yeast cakes or 2 packages dry yeast
- 1/4 cup lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3/4 cup shortening or margarine
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 large can evaporated milk plus hot water to equal 2 cups milk
- 6 cups flour (measure by lightly spooning into cup and leveling off) melted butter for brushing
Dissolve yeast in water and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar. In large bowl or mixer, cream sugar and shortening or margarine together. Add yolks and salt and mix well. Add the dissolved yeast and about á cup of the flour. Mix slowly with mixer. Add all the milk and continue adding the remaining flour, using mixer or stirring with a wooden spoon until dough becomes glossy. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, about one hour.
After the dough has risen, cut off small portions of dough about the size of an egg. Using a tablespoon, shape into balls and place on a greased pan about 1 inch apart. Brush with melted butter to improve flavor, cover loosely and let rise until light. Make a small indentation in each piece and place filling there. Sprinkle with topping and bake in a preheated 425-degree oven for 15 minutes. Brush the kolaches with melted butter when they come out of the oven and cool on wire racks. Kolaches are best the day they are made. Yield: 3-4 dozen kolaches, depending on size.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup flour
- 3/4 to
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
Mix together until it resembles coarse meal. Store in refrigerator.
Prune filling: Cook 1 pound of prunes slowly in water to cover until soft and tender. Remove stones from the cooled prunes and add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and mix well. Do not overmix or prunes will lose their color. Filling for about 2 dozen kolaches.
Apricot filling: Cook a 10-oz package of dried apricots slowly in enough water to cover until fruit is soft and water is cooked out. Do not cover or fruit turns dark. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar or more to taste and mash with a potato masher until well blended. Filling for about 2 dozen kolaches.
Cottage Cheese filling: If using cottage cheese as a filling, be sure to enclose cheese in the dough. Spread dough balls out, place cheese in the middle and pinch all sides together to seal completely. Place sealed side down on the greased pan and butter the pastry. Let rise until light, sprinkle with topping and bake. If commercial cottage cheese is used:
- 1 pint dry curd cottage cheese
- 1 8-oz package cream cheese
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- grated zest of one lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Mix together until blended. If cheese is too moist, add very finely rolled crackers, about 10 or 12 to absorb liquid. If using country-style cottage cheese, cream cheese can be omitted or used for added flavor, according to taste.
Recipe Source: Texas Monthly.com