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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) Acorn Media

Written by: Victoria Alexander | January 8th, 2012

John le Carré’s Cold War Spy Drama, timed to the feature film remake.”

I am such a fan of the Focus Features film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy starring Gary Oldman (as seasoned spy George Smiley) and directed by Tomas Alfredson, I just HAD to watch the original 1979 BBC television version “Based On The John le Carré Classic That Redefined The Spy Thriller” (the 2011 movie’s tagline).

Acorn Media’s 3 DVD set (approx. 324 mins.) of the six-part miniseries features the worldly Sir Alec Guinness as the bespectacled superspy George Smiley (filmed in between Guinness’s career-defining role as Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first two Star Wars films), a thinking man’s James Bond who’s called out of retirement by “Control” (Alexander Knox) to find a “mole” that the Soviets have planted in the MI6’s “The Circus.”

The “Circus” is the highest echelon of the British Secret Intelligence Service. Control, the Circus Chief, assigns code names to the senior intelligence officers under suspicion of being a Soviet mole, with the intention that should an agent called Prideaux uncover information about the identity of the mole he can relay it back using an easy-to-recall code the mole is unaware of.

The iconic “Circus” members are all here: Percy Alleline, Toby Esterhase, Roy Bland, Bill Haydon, and of course, Jim Prideaux (who botched up an assignment and sets the crisis in motion), and wild card “scalphunter” Ricki Tarr (played in the feature film by Tom Hardy in a lousy blond wig).

Having watched the 2011 film a few times I couldn’t help comparing it to the miniseries. Alec Guinness’s George Smiley is about a decade older – whiter, and more talkative and charming – than the brooding, always contemplating darker portrayal by the fabulous Gary Oldman. As the miniseries is over five hours long, Smiley has a lot more room for speeches!

The tightly-constructed two hour movie ties scenes, events, expositions quickly and skillfully, whereas the miniseries can take its time, developing plot lines, discussing characters and events more in depth, revealing full scenes that might have only been mentioned in the movie.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a great series to watch, an engaging television experience for fans of the spy genre. I’m looking forward to watching the sequel, Smiley’s People with Alec Guinness’s return as George Smiley, also from Acorn Media (and now the book is required reading for me!)

The DVD set features a half hour interview with John le Carré and a glossary of characters and spy terms.

Member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association: and the Las Vegas Film Critics Society:

Victoria’s weekly column, “The Devil’s Hammer,” is posted every Monday. If you would like to be included on Victoria’s private distribution list for a weekly preview, just email her at

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email. You can contact Victoria directly at


Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and answers every email at For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to: Victoria Alexander contributes to Films in Review (, Film Festival Today ( and Las Vegas Informer (

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