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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

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Patrick Stewart and Alec Guinness in the original BBC rendition of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Everett Collection

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
324 minutes
John Irvin

We gave it an A

When Gary Oldman’s Cold War thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy hit theaters back in December, some folks rubbed their temples as the end credits rolled and complained that the film’s Byzantine plot was too confusing — that it tried to snap too many unwieldy puzzle pieces together too quickly. They had a point. After all, the best puzzles are the ones that take some time to solve. That’s why I’d urge them to double down with the amazing six-part BBC miniseries version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979, Not Rated, 5 hrs., 24 mins.). It’s just out on Blu-ray with a load of new EXTRAS, including a terrific interview with the espionage classic’s creator, John le Carré Still, the main reason to check it out is Alec Guinness. In a career that included everything from The Lavender Hill Mob to The Bridge on the River Kwai to Star Wars, Guinness shined the brightest as British spymaster George Smiley, an unknowable riddle of a man tasked with rooting out which of his intelligence branch’s four top agents is a Russian mole. Despite its leisurely pace, Tinker, Tailor is riveting — it’s an action film of the mind. And the extended length allows for more delicious double and triple crosses, and lets the onion layers of Smiley’s murky past peel off slowly. As much as I loved Oldman’s Oscar-nominated performance, Guinness’ is richer. Even after five-plus hours in his company, you won’t want this puzzle to be finished. A