DVD Review – Smiley’s People


Buy Smiley's People from Amazon.com (cover art will vary).
Buy Smiley's People from Amazon.com (cover art will vary).

As you can probably tell by some of the subject matter of my reviews, I like spy fiction. In particular, I enjoy John LeCarre’s work, especially the character of George Smiley. Previously I’ve watched the adaptation of his novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, though I didn’t review it here. What I will be reviewing today, though, is the adaptation of the 3rd novel of the “Quest for Karla” trilogy, Smiley’s People, which once again puts George Smiley (played by Alec Guinness) of the British Secret Service (aka the Circus) up against Karla of the KGB, played by Patrick Stewart. There are some spoilers below the cut.

The Premise:

George Smiley is once again retired after the events of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (which was adapted for the screen) and The Honorable Schoolboy (which wasn’t). However, after one of his old operatives from Moscow, now living in the UK, contacts the Circus seeking to contact Smiley with some major intelligence, and is then murdered (evidently by Soviet intelligence), George Smiley is brought back in to the spy game, one last time, and must match wits against his old enemy, Karla, once again.

The Good:

Alec Guinness is George Smiley. I cannot think of anyone who would play the character better. If anyone says otherwise, they’re not just a liar, they’re a damn liar. The series is also excellently shot, with the BBC really going the extra mile with the production values – particularly considering the whole thing is shot on film, both external shots and interior shots. This bears mentioning, because normally the BBC shot, during this period, the interiors on video and location shooting on film.

The Bad:

The German bondage nightclub scene. Yes, I’ve read the book, I know the sequence is supposed to be there, and it’s supposed to feel dark and sleazy, but there had to have been a better way to have shot it. Also, when Karla drops Smiley’s lighter on the bridge, in the book it’s made a little more explicitly clear that it’s Smiley’s lighter from their first meeting, which Smiley recounts (and we see in flashback) in Tinker, Tailor. However, unless the members of the audience watching the miniseries have read the book and are looking for it, we can’t tell the lighter is Smiley’s during this sequence, because we get a insanely brief (on nigh subliminal) glimpse of the lighter. Being that Karla’s defection is the climax, and conclusion of the film, a sustained shot on the lighter wouldn’t have hurt things any, and wouldn’t have required the addition of any dialog.

The Ugly:

To a certain extent, this is a weakness of the book, as well as the miniseries, but it still bears mentioning. I’m good at putting the pieces together in mystery novels and suspense thrillers. However, for Smiley’s People, I still have some difficulty seeing how the murder and blackmail in England and Germany leads to the reveal of Karla’s daughter in Switzerland. There may have been some additional dialog in there that explained it, but I missed it. One more explanation would have been very helpful – particularly to explain it to the Circus people who will be assisting Smiley once he put the pieces together, and set in motion his plan to bring Karla to the west.

Gaming Usage:

If you’re running a much more serious, non-cinematic spy campaign, with a game like Spycraft, or Hero System, or even adjusting the Storyteller system to run an espionage campaign, this series (along with the earlier Tinker, Tailor) is perfect. Oh, and if you are using vanilla nWoD rules for this, you can probably even keep the Morality mechanic.

The Verdict:

As I’ve mentioned previously, I liked Tinker, Tailor – and I liked this film too. I don’t think it’s quite as good on it’s own as Tinker, Tailor but it’s still enjoyable. I definitely recommend getting it.

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