Tagline: The enemy is within
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writers: Bridget O’Connor (screenplay), Peter Straughan (screenplay)
Release Date: (UK)
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, some sexuality/nudity and language
Genre: Drama | Mystery | Thriller
Runtime: 127 min
In the early 1970s during the Cold War, the head of British Intelligence, Control, resigns after an operation in Budapest, Hungary goes badly wrong. It transpires that Control believed one of four senior figures in the service was in fact a Russian agent – a mole – and the Hungary operation was an attempt to identify which of them it was. Smiley had been forced into retirement by the departure of Control, but is asked by a senior government figure to investigate a story told to him by a rogue agent, Ricky Tarr, that there was a mole. Smiley considers that the failure of the Hungary operation and the continuing success of Operation Witchcraft (an apparent source of significant Soviet intelligence) confirms this, and takes up the task of finding him.
|… Jim Prideaux
|… George Smiley
|… Percy Alleline
|… Roy Bland
- Michael Fassbender was originally cast as Ricki Tarr, but he had to back out because he was busy filming X-Men: First Class and was replaced by Tom Hardy.
- This is Tomas Alfredson’s first English film.
- Peter Morgan wrote a draft for the screenplay and was going to write the final draft, but he gave up that assignment due to the death of a family member. He remains executive producer on this film.
- Jared Harris was originally cast as Percy Alleline, but he had to back out due to scheduling conflicts with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and was replaced with Toby Jones.
- Producer Tim Bevan recommended Tom Hardy for the role of Ricki Tarr, stating he resembled a younger Robert Redford.
- To prepare for the role of George Smiley, Gary Oldman ate a lot of treacle sponge and custard to “put on a bit of middle-aged tummy”. Oldman also watched Sir Alec Guinness’s performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and paid a visit to Smiley’s creator John le Carré: “The way he touched his shirt, spoke and so on, I took all that and used it. I hope he won’t mind, but Smiley is in his DNA.”
- Gary Oldman based his performance as George Smiley on a line from the ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ novel: “George is like a swift, Ann once told Haydon in George’s hearing. He lowers his temperature until it’s the same as the room around it. Then he doesn’t lose heat by adjusting.” Tomas Alfredson further compared Smiley to a turtle, “because the turtle has so much of its body hidden inside a shell; it is fixed, and it doesn’t have a lot of different expressions.”
- John Hurt was an early choice for George Smiley in pre-production, but he was later given the role of Control.
- Gary Oldman described Tomas Alfredson as taking a near-voyeuristic approach, by shooting with long lenses: “It was as if he was eavesdropping, like a peeping Tom, which is what you sort of want for a spy film.”
- Gary Oldman went to Old Focals, an eyeglass store in Pasadena, to search for the right glasses to fit George Smiley: “Glasses are funny things. For Smiley, they’re iconic. It’s like Bond’s Aston Martin or vodka martini.” Oldman tried on hundreds of glasses frames before he found the appropriate spectacles.
- Benedict Cumberbatch describes his role as Peter Guillam as the ultimate acting exercise: “I’ve always wanted to play a spy – you are NEVER what you seem.”
- The filmmakers searched for 18 months to find the right actor to play George Smiley. They were on the point of canceling the film before producer Tim Bevan thought of Gary Oldman.
- Tomas Alfredson based the environment on his first impressions of London when he first visited the town in the 1970s: a brown and gray palette, shadows and uncovered light-bulbs, and dirty streets. “If you see London now and at that time, it’s two different cities. Today it’s a white city; then it was black; it was so dirty, and you could still feel the War all around.”
- Connie Sachs’ line about feeling “under-fucked” was allegedly originally spoken to John le Carré by W.H. Auden.
- The filmmakers consider this film’s version of George Smiley as the most emotional one yet: “You see a wilder person inside Gary’s eyes; he can probably be crueler, maybe even more melancholic. He’s a man presenting himself one way, yet internally there’s a great sadness…”
- Tim Bevan cited the thrillers The Conversation and The Conformist as a visual influence on the film.
- To prepare for his role as Peter Guillam, Benedict Cumberbatch went to the Moroccan town of Essaouira, where Guillam had been stationed in the story: “It’s got a slightly nightmare quality; I was wandering around the streets at night, thinking what it must be like to know that every turn could be my last.”
- Tomas Alfredson had John le Carré write part of the dialogue for the Circus conference: “When we rehearsed it, it felt as if Bill Haydon should say something, but what would he say? Well, why not call John le Carré and see if he’s in? And we called him and we described the situation. He thought for 15 seconds and he said, grab a pen, here it is! It was a fantastic moment.” Colin Firth jokingly suggested a velvet cushion for the paper on which the line was written.
- The word processor seen at the Circus office is a Wang 1200 model, the first ever of its type (before the advent of the personal computers and workstations of the digital age).
- Filming took place at a disused army barracks in North London, a location much cheaper and affording wider space for the set designers than renting buildings in London for filming. The barrack’s corridors and alcoves were used for interior shots, and the side of a building was ‘dressed up’ as a Wimpy bar.
- Gary Oldman was offered a gray-haired wig to wear for his role, but declined it in favour of bleaching his hair for a more natural hairdo for a middle-aged persona like Smiley.
- The film is dedicated to screenwriter Bridget O’Connor, who completed work on the film before her passing away from cancer.
- The Swedish song heard in Control’s first scene is “Land, du välsignade” (Blessed Country) sung by Jussi Björling. The director Tomas Alfredson is Swedish; however the song also serves as an indication of Control’s patriotism.
- In the ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ novel, Jim Prideaux’s mission took place in Czechoslovakia; in the film the mission takes place in Hungary. The change in location was because Hungary offers a 20% tax reduction for film productions.
- The film took six months to edit.
- David Thewlis and Ralph Fiennes were considered for roles.
- In one of the flashback scenes Control is speaking on the phone, on the desk behind him are two bulldogs draped in the Union Jack. These figurines were created by Royal Doulton during World War II to represent Patriotism.
- The text Guillam recites when testing the bug is Felicia Hemans’ 1826 poem “Casabianca”.
- Roger Lloyd-Pack (Mendel) was in Only Fools and Horses…. with Michael Jayston who played Guillam in the 1979 BBC television version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Tom Hardy (Tarr) was in Star Trek: Nemesis with Patrick Stewart who portrayed “Karla” in the same TV adaptation.
- Third ‘John Le Carre’ filmed adaptation to be nominated for Academy Awards. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was nominated for two Oscars whilst The Constant Gardener was nominated for three, winning one.
- As this movie is about the uncovering of an infiltrator into the British Secret Service and the director’s previous film was called ‘Let the Right One In’ Let the Right One In, this film was jokingly referred to as ‘Get the Wrong One Out’.
- The title of the film and its source novel is taken from an English children’s rhyme ‘Tinker, Tailor’ that reads: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief”.
- In a long career spanning thirty years at the time of the 2012 Oscar nominations, this movie represented actor Gary Oldman’s first ever Academy Award nomination for acting (Best Actor).
- Gary Oldman is the fifth actor to play George Smiley in film and television. His predecessors include Rupert Davies who was the first in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; James Mason in The Deadly Affair where Smiley was renamed Charles Dobbs; Sir Alec Guinness played him twice in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley’s People whilst Denholm Elliott was the last person to play Smiley twenty years earlier in A Murder of Quality.
- John le Carré’s ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ novel, was based on the uncovering, during the 1950s and 60s, of the Cambridge Five traitors who were KGB moles working within the SIS. It is the first book in le Carré’s Karla or Quest for Karla Trilogy, the second and third parts being ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’ (1977) and ‘Smiley’s People’ (1979).
- John le Carré based the character of Connie Sachs (played by Kathy Burke) on Millicent Jessie Eleanor Bagot, a Sovietologist and British Intelligence spy.
- John le Carré based the character of Karla (played by Michael Sarne) on the KGB’s Major General Rem Krassilnikov who was a counter-intelligence spy for the KGB’s State Security Committee.
- Writer John le Carré partially based his famous George Smiley character on a friend, the Lincoln College tutor and Oxford University don, the Reverend Vivian Green. Smiley was also based on le Carré’s boss at Mi5, Lord Clanmorris, who wrote crime novels under the pseudonym of John Bingham.
- Second filmed adaptation of a John le Carré novel to have a score composed by Alberto Iglesias. His first was for The Constant Gardener. Both scores were Oscar nominated.
- First appearance by novelist John le Carré in a filmed adaptation of his work since The Little Drummer Girl. His cameo appearance in this movie is only the second time he has appeared in a filmed adaption of one of his books.
- Source author John le Carré included ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ as one of his four best novels during an interview on 5 October 2008 on BBC Four. The other best works he selected were ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’, ‘The Tailor of Panama’ and ‘The Constant Gardener’.
- This movie remake was made and released thirty-two years after the renowned TV series Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, just under thirty years after its sequel Smiley’s People and thirty-seven years after the ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ novel was first published in 1974.
- First ever theatrical remake of a John le Carré story. During the 1970s, there were two versions of the same le Carré made-for-television, they being Endstation and Armchair Theatre: The End of the Line.
- The hands of the optician adjusting the equipment during Smiley’s eye exam belong to Alfie Oldman, Gary Oldman’s son.