- Cards on the table first. I haven't seen the Alec Guinness TV adaptation, and although I have read the novel, it was so long ago that I remember almost nothing about it, so that wasn't a factor in my enjoyment. I suppose I was slightly anxious that it would be a) complicated, b) very talky, and c) slow, and it IS all of those things to a degree, but not in a bad way. Yes, some concentration is required to follow the plot, but not an undue amount, and yes, the pace is stately but necessarily and very pleasurably so. Such care has been taken to build a believable world that the result is amazingly immersive: I felt I could have wandered through that world for ages, overhearing mysterious conversations and smelling the fag-stained upholstery and air of hanging on in quiet desperation.
- This immersiveness is due in no small degree to the cinematography and production design, which are absolutely spot on: they evoke a grim 70s world where most things are brown or yellow or some nasty shade inbetween, but they do it in a way that is strangely beautiful. I've already suggested to my work colleagues that we should cover the office walls in orange eggboxes in order to pretend that we are very covert and important, but they seemed unconvinced. Shame.
You'll never catch George Smiley standing in the way of Control.
- Gary Oldman's performance as George Smiley has attracted a lot of praise from critics, and you might be forgiven for assuming that this was mostly because of the novelty value of Gaz acting quietly for once in his manic pixie psycho-boy career. However, I reckon that the plaudits are well deserved, because he is actually really good in this. Of course, it's a very downplayed sort of good, because the joke is that everyone thinks Smiley's a loser, but his apparent negligibility and fearsome doggedness are actually his master cards. I also loved the fact that other movie heroes may play with guns, bombs and laser beams, but Smiley's baddest-ass moment involves eating a Trebor Extra Strong Mint. Beat that, Jason Statham.
- This is all very well, I hear you cry, but what about the Cumberbatch? Well, Benedict plays Smiley's right-hand man, Peter Guillam, and is mostly sharp-suited and soft-spoken, but he gets a couple of big moments that show how much is stirring beneath that neatly tailored surface. One scene in particular made me want to run at the screen and give him an enormous hug, but for the sake of the people sitting in front of me, I refrained. I am capable of reining it in too, see? Just don't expect me to do it too often...
- I'm really not sure how Tom Hardy has managed to yank Hollywood success out of the pit of ineptitude that was Star Trek: Nemesis but somehow he has. Maybe it's liberating to have your career nadir right at the start of your working life, then you know that things can only get better? Anyway, even though he's not my type AND was bedecked in a particularly tragic wig and clothes that even Gene Hunt would have taken to Oxfam, he was somehow kind of attractive in this. No, I don't know how he managed that, either. Perhaps there's just something about him that suggests he'd be utterly filthy.
- Speaking of matters tonsorial, I'm almost tempted to rename the movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Syrup. Crikey, that was some of the worst wiggage since Our Friends in the North (poor Mark Strong, hasn't he suffered enough?). At least Benedict's grow-your-own pudding bowl looked relatively flattering in the circumstances.
- "I don't know about you, George, but I feel seriously underfucked." - Best movie line of the year, perhaps? It's certainly up there. And it's always nice to see Kathy Burke. For some reason, I can't help empathizing with a woman in a cardigan who spends her life staring at a little screen and thinking "oh, look at the lovely men, bless 'em". Can't think why that is.
- Another woman after my own heart is Downton's Lady Edith, not only moonlighting for MI6 but also getting to make doe eyes at young Benedict. Not a lot of hardcore acting required there, surely?
- Is there anyone who's seen this film and is NOT now wishing that they could attend an MI6 Christmas party in the early seventies? I'd be there like a shot, Margo Leadbetter kaftan and all.
- And finally, here's a little nugget that I didn't notice while watching the film itself, but only when I was screencapping the trailer to illustrate this review.
Above, you see David Dencik being menaced by a wild Cumberbatch (we should all be so lucky), but what I want to draw your attention to is the delightful signage above the door: "Beware of head entrapment" and "If you do not, others will not be able to call the lift." How fabulously silly. Perhaps it's meant to be an encapsulation of the British civil service attitude: don't get yourself decapitated, because it might inconvenience other people and that's a fate worse than death! Perhaps eagle-eyed viewers are meant to be fooled into thinking that this is a cunning bit of foreshadowing, only to be foiled later when (SPOILER!) nobody dies of head entrapment? Or perhaps "head entrapment" is actually a codeword for "brainwashing by Communist spies"? I'd come up with other theories, but I fear they might get me killed….
In summary, it's probably not everyone's cup of tea, but if you're patient, able to enjoy atmospherics over action and understand emotional repression as a national sport, it comes with my hearty recommendation. It's only out in the UK now, but the US gets it on December 9th and the rest of the world some time after that.
Now eat this blog post to prevent it from falling into enemy hands...