ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Should I Watch..? 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' (2011)

Updated on April 6, 2022
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

Poster for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
Poster for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" | Source

What's the big deal?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a dramatic spy film released in 2011 and is an adaptation of the novel by John le Carré. It is the first big-screen adaptation after a TV mini-series first aired on the BBC in 1979 featuring Alec Guinness. It boasts an all-star British line-up including Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, John Hurt, Mark Strong and Gary Oldman as George Smiley, a retired spy who is pressed into action to uncover a Soviet mole in British Intelligence. After premiering at the Venice Film Festival, it was released to critical and commercial success and would go on to secure three Oscar nominations. The film marked the English-language debut for Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, who previously made the vampire thriller Let The Right One In.


4 stars for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

What's it about?

In October 1973, the head of the British Intelliegence - Control - authorises a mission to Hungary to help uncover the identity of a Soviet mole within what's known as The Circus, the upper eschelons on British Intelligence. But after agent Jim Prideaux is shot and captured by Soviet forces, the developing international incident forces Control and his right-hand-man George Smiley to retire.

Percy Alleline then becomes the new head of the Circus and appoints Bill Haydon as his deputy. Smiley is then coerced out of retirement to investigate the apparent defection of agent Ricki Tarr who reiterates the suspicion of a mole within the Circus. Smiley learns of a secret program known as Witchcraft is in place that exchanges low-level British intelligence for Soviet information, apparently with the blessing of the CIA. Can Smiley deduce whether the mole is real and can he bring the traitor to justice before the Circus becomes any more compromised?


What's to like?

If nothing else, the film is a masterclass in acting. Oldman's Smiley is a very different sort of cinematic secret agent to the likes we're used to like James Bond or Jason Bourne. Smiley is a minimalist, speaking only when required and using his years of experience as leverage instead of a silenced pistol or swift karate-chop. Smiley uses the threat of violence instead and the character still stands the test of time well, providing a welcome change to jaded viewers used to carnage and colourful locations. But Oldman is one aspect of a brilliant ensemble, illuminated by the likes of Hardy, Cumberbatch, Firth and the rest.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy also feels different to the numerous Bond adventures set in warm, sunny locations by being set in a drab, colourless London in the middle of a wet autumn. It's smart enough to understand that spying isn't about fast cars with missiles under the headlights - it's a shadowy world of rumour and insinuation where danger was more about being vigilant instead of hat-chucking hitmen. This grey world is exemplified by the wonderful use of an extremely faded colour palette which matches the era as well as the context. It feels almost like a documentary and given le Carré's previous history working for MI6 in the 60's, you do wonder how much is fact and how much is fiction.

The film's faded colour palette and use of fashion and set design do a great job of replicating Seventies London.
The film's faded colour palette and use of fashion and set design do a great job of replicating Seventies London. | Source

Fun Facts

  • Director Alfredson recruited author John le Carré to write some of the dialogue during the Circus conference scenes. Le Carré was awarded a cameo in the Christmas party scene for his efforts.
  • As this film is about a suspected Soviet spy within British Intelligence and Alfredson's previous film was called Let The Right One In, it was jokingly referred to as "Get The Wrong One Out".
  • In a flashback scene where Control is speaking on the phone, two porcelain bulldogs draped in Union Jack flags can be seen. One such figurine can also be seen on M's desk in Skyfall. They were produced by Royal Doulton during the Second World War and are meant to symbolise British patriotism.

What's not to like?

Faded palettes can be a double-edged sword, however. The film suffers from being chronically under lit, meaning scenes are sometimes obscured in near-total darkness. The other thing I didn't like was because of the film's limited running time, I got the distinct whiff of crucial exposition being edited out. At times, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a little too inclusive which left this particular viewer wondering how Smiley was able to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Lastly, the film's pace is quite slow - the film is almost devoid of any action sequences whatsoever, as if afraid to show us the darker side of military intelligence, and this comes as a shock to viewers more used to things blowing up and our hero indulging in casual PG-rated sex. Smiley would never dream of such antics!

But aside from these niggles, the film is a real class act. It feels like a solid adaptation of the book but I fear that the story isn't that well suited to the big screen. It needed some life injecting into it and aside from the final third of the film where the pace picks up a little, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a real slow-burner. Anyone expecting The Bourne Identity or Die Another Day might feel somewhat short-changed.

Oldman's performance is full of subtle menace and grizzled experience
Oldman's performance is full of subtle menace and grizzled experience | Source

Should I watch it?

Whilst not exactly setting the screen ablaze, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a rich and deeply rewarding experience that is chock-full of blistering talent at the peak of their powers. Oldman delivers a performance of subtle menace that begs to be revisited in another story while Alfredson's clever direction is both evocative and well-suited to this slow-burning thriller. It's not your standard spy flick but this Cold War-era drama is well worth a watch.

Great For: British acting talent, Alfredson's reputation, John le Carré's sales

Not So Great For: fans of Bond or Bourne, short attention spans

What else should I watch?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is enormously reminiscent of a number of Cold War spy films, the likes of which we don't see that often any more. Stuff like Michael Caine's Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File and Billion Dollar Brain tend to shy away from the sort of violence and glamour that most movie viewers associate with spying, thanks to the like of Bond movies like Diamonds Are Forever and any of Pierce Brosnan's outings.

Considering that this is the first time that Oldman was nominated for an acting Oscar, it seems incredible given his enormous body of work. From a drug-addled Sid Vicious in Sid And Nancy, cinema's most notorious vampire in Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, Harry Potter's werewolf godfather Sirius Black in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban to the impossibly stylish villain Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg in The Fifth Element and his unforgettable crooked cop in Leon - Oldman rarely gives a muted performance and is utterly captivating in these and many more pictures. He would eventually win his Best Actor Oscar in 2018 for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.

Main Cast

Gary Oldman
George Smiley / "Beggerman"
Colin Firth
Bill Haydon / "Tailor"
Toby Jones
Percy Alleline / "Tinker"
John Hurt
Benedict Cumberbatch
Peter Guilliam
Tom Hardy
Ricki Tarr
Mark Strong
Jim Prideaux
Ciarán Hinds
Roy Bland / "Soldier"
Simon McBurney
Oliver Lacon

Technical Info

Tomas Alfredson
Bridget O'Conner & Peter Straughan *
Running Time
127 minutes
Release Date (UK)
16th September, 2011
Drama, Spy, Thriller
Academy Award Nominations
Best Leading Actor (Oldman), Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay

* based on the novel by John le Carré

© 2015 Benjamin Cox


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)