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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (film)

For the TV miniseries based on the novel, see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (miniseries).

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
File:Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Poster.jpg
UK release poster
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
by John le Carré
Music by Alberto Iglesias
Cinematography Hoyte van Hoytema
Edited by Dino Jonsäter
Karla Films
Paradis Films
Kinowelt Filmproduktion
Working Title Films
Distributed by StudioCanal UK
Release dates
  • 5 September 2011 (2011-09-05) (Venice Film Festival)
  • 16 September 2011 (2011-09-16) (United Kingdom)
Running time
127 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $21 million
Box office $80,630,608[1]

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a 2011 Cold War espionage film directed by Tomas Alfredson. The screenplay was written by Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, based on the 1974 novel of the same name by John le Carré.

It stars Gary Oldman as George Smiley, along with Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciarán Hinds. Set in London in the early 1970s, the story follows the hunt for a Soviet double agent at the top of the British secret service.

The film was produced through the British company Working Title Films and financed by France's StudioCanal. It premiered in competition at the 68th Venice International Film Festival. It was a critical and commercial success and was the highest-grossing film at the British box office for three consecutive weeks. The film also received three Academy Awards nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and for Oldman, Best Actor.

The novel had previously been adapted into the award-winning 1979 BBC TV miniseries Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.


In October 1973, Control, the head of British intelligence service "the Circus", sends agent Jim Prideaux to Budapest in Communist Hungary to meet a Hungarian general who had promised to deliver valuable information regarding a mole in British Intelligence. However, Prideaux is shot and captured by Soviet agents. Amid the international incident that follows, Control and his right-hand man George Smiley are forced into retirement. Control, already ill, dies soon afterwards.

Percy Alleline becomes the new Chief of the Circus, with Bill Haydon as his deputy and Roy Bland and Toby Esterhase as key lieutenants. They had already initiated a secretive operation called "Witchcraft" to obtain valuable Soviet intelligence. Control and Smiley had mistrusted the material produced by Witchcraft, which is being shared with the CIA in exchange for valuable American intelligence.

Smiley is brought out of retirement by Oliver Lacon, the civil servant in charge of intelligence, to investigate a claim by Ricki Tarr , a Circus operative thought to have defected, that there has been a long-term mole in a senior role in British Intelligence. Control had held this suspicion as well. Working outside of the Circus, Smiley chooses Peter Guillam and retired Special Branch officer Mendel to assist his investigation and begins to interview people who left the Circus about the same time that he and Control did.

One is Connie Sachs, who had been sacked by Alleline after claiming that Alexei Polyakov, a Soviet cultural attaché in London, was a Soviet spy. Another is Jerry Westerby, who had been duty clerk on the night Prideaux was shot. Westerby says that on that night he called Smiley's house for instructions, but Ann, Smiley's philandering wife, had answered. Shortly after, Haydon arrived at the Circus and said that he saw the news on the tickertape at his club. Smiley realises that Haydon must have heard the news from Ann, confirming his suspicion that the two had been having an affair.

Tarr tells Smiley that he had been sent to Istanbul to investigate a Soviet agent named Boris. Tarr found that Boris had no significance, but that Boris's wife Irina was also an operative and seemed to have information. So Tarr overstayed in Istanbul and started having an affair with Irina to gain her trust. Irina, however, knew who Tarr was, and asked to trade information—specifically, the name of a mole who existed in the top ranks of the Circus and who worked for a KGB spymaster named Karla—for a new life in the West.

Tarr sent Irina's request back to London, but the reply, coming after several hours, ignored Irina's request and ordered him to come home immediately. Tarr then finds that Boris, as well as the British station chief in Istanbul, have been killed. Tarr saw Irina captured by her employers; he was subsequently accused of defecting and of murdering the British station chief, so went into hiding.

Guillam is sent by Smiley to steal the Circus logbook for the night Tarr called: he finds the pages for that night are cut out, suggesting that Tarr's story is true.

Prideaux, who was returned by the Russians but sacked from the service, is now in hiding, working as a language teacher at a boys' school. Prideaux reveals to Smiley that the purpose of the Hungary mission was to get the name of the mole. Control had codenamed the suspects "Tinker" (Alleline), "Tailor" (Haydon), "Soldier" (Bland), "Poorman" (Esterhase) and "Beggarman" (Smiley himself). Prideaux tells how he was brutally interrogated under the direction of Karla and gave in, and also how he saw a blonde female prisoner, Irina, being shot in front of him. However, says Prideaux, the Soviets already knew of Control's investigation into the mole, and were only interested in finding out how far that investigation had progressed.

Smiley learns that Alleline, Haydon, Bland and Esterhase have been regularly meeting Polyakov – the "Witchcraft" source – at a safe house to get material. At every meeting, Polyakov gives these men supposedly high-grade Soviet intelligence in exchange for low-grade British material that helps him maintain his cover with the Soviets. In reality, however, one of these men is the mole, and is passing along substantive material, including American intelligence, and Polyakov is his handler. The material Polyakov passes along is mostly "chicken feed", with just enough substance to persuade the Americans to share information with the British.

Smiley gets the safe house's location by threatening to deport Esterhase, who was formerly Hungarian and would surely be treated as a traitor there. Smiley then sets a trap by having Tarr appear at the Paris office implying he knows who the mole is and is ready to give the name. The mole hears this, and immediately arranges with Polyakov to meet at the safe house to ask the Soviets to kill Tarr. Smiley waits at the safe house and captures the mole: Haydon.

At the Circus interrogation centre in Sarratt, Haydon reveals that he seduced Smiley's wife on Karla's orders, in order to distort any suspicions Smiley may have had of Haydon. Haydon also reveals that Prideaux confided in him about Control's suspicion of a mole right before Prideaux left for Hungary, since they were close friends. The Circus makes plans to exchange Haydon back to the Soviets, but Prideaux, having learned of how Haydon betrayed him, kills him. Smiley is restored to the Circus as its chief.




The project was initiated by Peter Morgan when he wrote a draft of the screenplay, which he offered to Working Title Films to produce. Morgan dropped out as the writer owing to personal reasons, but still served as an executive producer.[2] Following Morgan's departure, Working Title hired Peter Straughan and his wife, Bridget O'Connor, to redraft the script. Park Chan-wook considered directing the film, but ultimately turned it down.[3] Tomas Alfredson was confirmed to direct on 9 July 2009. The production is his first English language film.[4][5] The film was backed financially by France's StudioCanal and had a budget corresponding to $21 million.[6] The film is dedicated to O'Connor, who died of cancer during production.


The director cast Gary Oldman in the role of George Smiley, and described the actor as having "a great face" and "the quiet intensity and intelligence that's needed". Many actors were connected to the other roles at various points, but only days before filming started, Oldman was still the only lead actor who officially had been contracted.[7] David Thewlis was in talks for a role early on.[8] Michael Fassbender was in talks at one point to star as Ricki Tarr, but the shooting schedule conflicted with his work on X-Men: First Class. Tom Hardy was cast instead.[9] On 17 September 2010 it was confirmed that Mark Strong had joined the cast.[10] Jared Harris was cast but had to drop out because of scheduling conflicts with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. He was replaced by Toby Jones.[11] John le Carré appears in a cameo as a guest in a party scene.[12]


File:Blythe House.jpg
Blythe House, the exterior of "The Circus"
File:Budapešť, Belváros, Váci út, Parisi udvar.JPG
The Párizsi Udvar in Budapest, the setting for the Hungarian café scene.

Principal photography took place between 7 October and 22 December 2010.[13] Studio scenes were shot at a former army barracks in Mill Hill, North London.[6] Blythe House in Kensington Olympia, West London, was used as the exterior for "The Circus."[14] The interior hall of Budapest's Párizsi Udvar served as the location for the café scene, in which Jim Prideaux is shot.[15] Empress Coach Works in Haggerston was used as the location for the Merlin safe house. Other scenes were filmed on Hampstead Heath and in Hampstead Ponds, where Smiley is shown swimming, and in the physics department of Imperial College London. The exterior shots of the Islay Hotel, a run-down hotel described in the film as being near Liverpool Street station, which Smiley uses as a base, were shot in Wilkin Street, London NW5.[citation needed]

The events which take place in Czechoslovakia in the novel were moved to Hungary, because of the country's 20% rebate for film productions. The teams filmed in Budapest for five days. Right before Christmas the team also filmed in Istanbul for nine days.[6] The production reunited Alfredson with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and editor Dino Jonsäter, with whom he had made his previous film, Let the Right One In.[16]


The film took six months to edit. The final song in the film, a rendition by Julio Iglesias of the French song "La Mer" set against a visual montage of various characters and subplots being resolved as Smiley strides into Circus headquarters to assume command, was chosen because it was something the team thought George Smiley would listen to when he was alone; Alfredson described the song as "everything that the world of MI6 isn't". A scene where Smiley listens to the song was filmed, but eventually cut to avoid giving it too much significance.[17][18]

Heard at a Circus office party, sung along to by the guests, is "The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World", composed by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen and performed by Sammy Davis, Jr., from the 1965 British spy spoof, Licensed to Kill.


Gary Oldman at the Venice Film Festival for the premiere of the film

The film premiered in competition at the 68th Venice International Film Festival on 5 September 2011.[19] StudioCanal UK distributed the film in the United Kingdom, where it was released on 16 September 2011.[20] The US rights were acquired by Universal Pictures, which have a permanent first-look deal with Working Title, and they passed the rights to their subsidiary Focus Features. Focus planned to give the film a wide release in the United States on 9 December 2011, but pushed it to January 2012 where it was given an 800 screen release.[21]

Critical response

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy received generally positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes sampled 206 reviewers and judged 83% of the reviews to be positive. The site summarised the film as "a dense puzzle of anxiety, paranoia, and espionage that director Tomas Alfredson pieces together with utmost skill".[22] Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating in the 0–100 range based on reviews from top mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 85 based on 42 reviews.[23]

Jonathan Romney of The Independent wrote, "The script is a brilliant feat of condensation and restructuring: writers Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O'Connor realise the novel is overtly about information and its flow, and reshape its daunting complexity to highlight that".[24] David Gritten of The Daily Telegraph declared the film "a triumph" and gave it a five star rating,[25] as did his colleague, Sukhdev Sandhu.[26] Stateside, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, "As Alfredson directs the expert script by Peter Straughan and Bridget O'Connor, the film emerges as a tale of loneliness and desperation among men who can never disclose their secret hearts, even to themselves. It's easily one of the year's best films."[27] M. Enois Duarte of High-Def Digest also praised the film as a "brilliant display of drama, mystery and suspense, one which regards its audience with intelligence".[28]

Detractors of the film included Peter Hitchens of The Mail on Sunday, who wrote that the plot would be too baffling for viewers who had not read the book, and that the film's makers had "needlessly messed it up".[29] David Edwards of the Daily Mirror wrote, "The big question – and one le Carré himself asked when the film was announced – is whether such a hefty novel can fit comfortably into a feature-length production. In answering this, the writers have pared things back, meaning it's far pacier than the seven-part TV show. Unfortunately, the plot is every bit as bewildering with an overload of spy-speak, a few too many characters to keep track of and a final act that ends with a whimper, rather than a bang."[30] Writing in The Atlantic, le Carré admirer James Parker favourably contrasted Smiley with the James Bond franchise, but finds this Tinker, Tailor adaptation "problematic" compared to the 1979 BBC mini-series. He writes "To strip down or minimalize le Carré, however, is to sacrifice the almost Tolkienesque grain and depth of his created world: the decades-long backstory, the lingo, the arcana, the liturgical repetitions of names and functions".[31]

Box office

The film topped the British box-office chart for three consecutive weeks,[32] and earned $80,630,608 worldwide.[33]



While doing press for Working Title's Les Misérables film adaptation, producer Eric Fellner stated that fellow producer Tim Bevan is working with writer Straughan and director Alfredson on developing a sequel. Fellner did not specify if the sequel will be based on The Honourable Schoolboy or Smiley's People, the two remaining Smiley novels in Le Carré's "Karla Trilogy".[43]


  1. ^ "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) - Box Office Mojo". 
  2. ^ Radish, Christina (14 October 2010). "Screenwriter Peter Morgan Exclusive Interview". Collider. Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  3. ^ Lee, Rachel (29 March 2012). "Park Chan-wook stalks a thriller with 'Stoker'". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  4. ^ de Semlyen, Phil (9 July 2009). "Tomas Alfredson to Direct Tinker, Tailor". Empire. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  5. ^ "Tomas Alfredson to direct Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy". Screen Daily. 9 July 2009. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c Tutt, Louise (8 December 2011). "How to tailor a spy classic". Screen International. Retrieved 11 December 2011. 
  7. ^ Hoskin, Peter; Mason, Simon (23 October 2010). "Interview – Tomas Alfredson: outside the frame". The Spectator. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
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  10. ^ Anderton, Ethan (17 September 2019). "Mark Strong Lands a Role in 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'". FirstShowing. Retrieved 26 September 2011.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
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  12. ^ Solomons, Jason. 20 August 2011. Trailer Trash: John le Carré makes a cameo at an MI6 Christmas party The Observer
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  16. ^ Ramachandran, Naman (7 December 2010). "Alfredson shoots 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'". Cineuropa. Retrieved 1 June 2011. 
  17. ^ Gradvall, Jan (3 December 2011). "Tomas Alfredson: Jag avskyr intryck just nu". (in Swedish). Retrieved 11 December 2011. Julio Iglesisas version av La Mer blir allt som MI6-världen inte är. 
  18. ^ French, Phillip (17 September 2012). "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 February 2012. 
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  26. ^ Sandhu, Sukhdev (15 September 2011). "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – review". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 22 October 2011. 
  27. ^ Travers, Peter (8 December 2011). "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 17 March 2012. 
  28. ^ Duarte, M. Enois (20 March 2012). "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Blu-ray)". High-Def Digest. Retrieved 20 March 2012. 
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  30. ^ Edwards, David (16 September 2011). "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy movie review: Thriller is impressive – but not so entertaining". Daily Mirror (London). ISSN 9975-9950. OCLC 223228477. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
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  36. ^ Kilday, Gregg (3 January 2012). "Art Directors Nominate Movies as Different as 'Harry Potter' and 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 15 January 2012. 
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  41. ^ Ferraro, Pietro. Il Cinemaniaco (11 June 2012)
  42. ^ Carla Cicognini, (30 June 2012)
  43. ^ Chitwood, Adam (11 December 2012). "Producer Eric Fellner Talks; Says Tomas Alfredson and Screenwriter Peter Straughan are Working on it "As We Speak"". Collider. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 

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