Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Starring: Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Kathy Burke, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds, David Dencik

Directed by: Tomas Alfredson

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Gary Oldman as George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

A few weeks ago, Ian and I visited the Secret Bunker. Hidden beneath a farmhouse in the Fife countryside, until the Cold War ended this concrete complex of underground rooms was all that stood between Scotland and nuclear meltdown (okay, I exaggerate, but you get the picture). Our visit left me feeling slightly disquieted, as if for half my life I'd been standing on the precipice of Armageddon and never even known about it.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy left me with the same uncomfortable feeling. Like the Secret Bunker, it's a perfectly preserved period piece, washed in dreary nicotine-stained browns and yellows, revealing a shadowy world of subterfuge and pretence, glimpsed hazily through a fug of cigarette smoke. And, also like the Secret Bunker, it's not something you'll forget in a hurry.

George Smiley (wonderful wonderful Gary Oldman) is retired from the Secret Service when a disastrous mission to Hungary ends with an agent shot, captured and tortured with horrible wallpaper by the KGB. But when a younger agent, loose cannon Ricki Tarr (the ubiquitous Tom Hardy, superb as ever) contacts 'the Circus' to reveal that there's a mole in its upper echelons, Smiley is re-recruited to smoke him out.

Today's gratiuitous Tom Hardy pic: as Ricki Tarr in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I won't beat about the bush, everything about this film is fantastic. A gripping plot that twists and turns but never loses its focus is brought to life by the crème de la crème of British talent. John Hurt, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Hardy: any of these actors can carry a film in their own right – to see them all together is an unbelievable treat. But despite this, Tinker Tailor belongs to Gary Oldman. After years reducing scenery to pulp as the bad guy of choice in Hollywood, here all he needs do is blink, clutch a bannister, twitch a cheek, to speak volumes about Smiley and his dried-up, lonely, dedicated life, his razor-sharp mind and muddled emotions.

So much praise has been heaped on this film by critics who actually know what they're talking about that you don't need me to tell to go see it, but I'm going to anyway. Like Inception, it's the kind of film that, the minute it's over, you want to see it again, to catch all the nuances you missed the first time round. Slow burning (yeah I know that's often shorthand for boring but not here, I promise), absorbing and intellectual (James Bond it ain't – if you're after car chases, I recommend Drive instead), it's also utterly brilliant. If you've not seen it yet, run! (And then visit the Secret Bunker and pretend you're on a mission...)

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