Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

The success of the BBC's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" in 1979 lies in the realism, not only of character portrayal--and the acting of Alec Guinness has achieved as definitive a performance as Olivier's Richard III or Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell--but of the way in which intelligence institutions work. But the claim for realism must not be pressed too far: Le Carré has admitted that the vocabulary used was invented: babysitters, lamplighters, the Circus, the nursery, moles--though he was also amused to discover that real agents had begun to appropriate some of his vocabulary once the stories were published. Moreover, much intelligence work is bureaucratic and boring: Smiley's reflections turn the drudgery of reading files into a fascinating intellectual puzzle which, unlike the real experience, always produces significant information.

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