Tomas Alfredson's perfectly cast adaptation of John le Carré's thorny tale of double-crossing spies doesn't quite equal the peerless BBC series from the Seventies, but it's still a sensationally nimble achievement.
Gary Oldman, virtually silent for the first 30 minutes of the film, plays sagacious George Smiley who is yanked out of enforced retirement to unearth the rotten apple at the top of the British intelligent services. A botched job in Hungary, involving Mark Strong's steadfast Jim Prideaux, is a key to the mystery. Smiley, accompanied by Benedict Cumberbatch's loyal Peter Guillam, is tracking four suspects – odious boss Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), shifty Roy Bland (Ciará* Hinds), dashing bounder Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) and unctuous Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). Scriptwriters Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan do a terrific job compacting the various strands of le Carré's novel and not losing too much, and Alfredson (Let the Right One In) gets the dour, bureaucratic feel of the Seventies spy game exactly right. There's no James Bond glamour here, just muted colours, musty rooms and public-schoolboy sniping and griping. The performances are uniformly excellent, but special mention goes to Strong (for once not playing a villain) as the wounded Jim, and Oldman is on Oscar-winning form as the forlorn, heart-broken (his wife is habitually unfaithful) Smiley.
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