Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Frances Alcock and John Irvin

To reveal how television has changed in the last 35 years, one need only take a look at the acclaimed BBC adaptation of John Le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which was in its day hailed as "a smashing thriller" by The New York Times. Through 2006 eyeballs, there's very little thrilling about it, and there's certainly no smashing at all. What we do get is a near six-hour mini-series of Cold War spy talk amongst older British white men desperately trying to weed out a mole from within the highest ranks of the British Secret Service. The "action" — note the use of the term only in the loosest possible sense — involves disgraced spy George Smiley (Alec Guinness) being handed the task of ferreting out the bad seed simply because he's become an "outsider" to the Service's inner machinations. He meets with and tries to outwit the various principles, as the viewer fights boredom, while trying to keep the various stodgy Brits straight. What's shocking about Tinker Tailor — at least in a 24-driven television universe — is the complete lack of jeopardy to the entire exercise. The spy is being rooted out not because he (oh no, there are no women here) has access to any key information or has threatened to bring down the British state in conjunction with radical terrorists, he simply needs to go because spying on one's country is terribly impolite and inappropriate behaviour. Absent any kind of suspenseful, Hitchcockian elements, we simply wait for Smiley to plod through his interviews while we care less and less about the result. When it does finally come, it requires more than an entire episode to unravel the various knots before finally limping to an entirely unsatisfactory conclusion. What Tinker Tailor does provide, in the end, is an opportunity to go back in time to a world where the television world was naïve enough to consider this gripping entertainment. Plus: Le Carré interview, production notes, filmographies, more. (Paradox)