It’s a brave man who would choose to take on John le Carre’s masterwork and adapt it for the big screen. This labyrinthine tale of spies, moles and Cold War shenanigans has already appeared as a certifiably classic BBC TV mini-series (in 1979) and it was difficult enough then to compress into 290 minutes, let alone a two-hour feature (even le Carré himself, while acting as a consultant on this film, described the process as ''turning a cow into an Oxo cube''.)
At the same time, it was never going to be easy to find an actor in the role of George Smiley who could escape the shadow of Alec Guinness' sublime performance; a role which has entered the annals of great small screen portrayals alongside Derek Jacobi's Claudius and Ian Richardson's Francis Uruqhart.
Swedish director Thomas Alfredson felt up to the challenge, and he pretty much succeeds. As we saw with his horror gem, Let The Right One In, Alfredson is adept at pacing and skilled in recreating the oppressive atmosphere of the 1970s; both qualities necessary to handle Carre’s slow-burning story about a retired MI6 officer (George Smiley) called back into action to flush out a Russian mole (that's as much of the plot as I'm prepared to divulge here!).
In this regard, he has two major allies: his regular cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema, who confines his pallette to those particularly 70s colours of brown, olive and grey; and Gary Oldman. Oldman is superb in the main role, echoing Guinness both in his choice of eyewear and in his vocal delivery (though the actor himself says he is channelling le Carré's voice), while putting his own stamp on the character.
As a consequence of Oldman's magnetic screen presence and the need to get so much plot into so little screen time, a terrific ensemble cast is underutilised. Indeed, it's probably the film's biggest flaw that the likes of Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Hardy, John Hurt and Kathy Burke are such fleeting presences in the movie. That said, there's much to admire about this fine, old-fashioned spy yarn.