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Classic TV: Alec Guinness in Tinker,Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre (BBC) – #2/7


Classic dramatisation with a superb cast led by Alec Guinness, who to me personified Smiley


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a 1979 seven-part drama spy miniseries made by BBC TV. John Irvin directed and Jonathan Powell produced this adaptation of John le Carré‘s novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974). The mini-series, which stars Alec Guinness, Alexander Knox, Ian Richardson, Michael Jayston, Anthony Bate, Ian Bannen, George Sewell and Michael Aldridge, was shown in the United Kingdom from 10 September to 22 October 1979 and in the United States beginning on 29 September 1980.

In the United States, syndicated broadcasts and DVD releases compressed the seven UK episodes into six,[1] by shortening scenes and altering the narrative sequence. In the UK original, George Smiley visits Connie Sachs before Peter Guillam‘s burglary of the Circus; the US version reverses the sequence of these events, in line with the time sequence of the novel


George Smiley (Guinness), deputy head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, is forced into retirement in the wake of Operation Testify, a failed spy mission to Czechoslovakia. Veteran British agent Jim Prideaux (Bannen) had been sent to meet a Czech general, having been told the general had information identifying a deep-cover Soviet spy planted in the highest echelons of British Secret Intelligence Service—known as the Circus, because of its headquarters at Cambridge Circus in London.

The mission proves to be a trap, and Prideaux is captured and brutally tortured by the Soviets. Britain’s chief spymaster, known only as Control, is disgraced and soon replaced for his role in Testify by Percy Alleline (Aldridge). Control’s obsession with the Soviet mole was not shared by others in the Circus. On the contrary, the British believe they have a mole, Merlin, working for them in Moscow Centre, passing them secrets code-named Operation Witchcraft.

Fears of a mole are revived when Ricki Tarr (Hywel Bennett), a British agent gone missing in Portugal, turns up in England with new evidence backing up Control’s theory whilst not identifying the mole. Control had narrowed the list of suspects to five men – Roy Bland, Toby Esterhase, Bill Haydon, Percy Alleline, and George Smiley – all of whom occupied high positions in the Circus. Knowing the Soviet spy is highly placed in the Circus, the British cannot trust the Circus to uncover its own mole or even to let its leaders know of the investigation; Smiley, who had been ousted along with Control while Control’s other four suspects were promoted, is recalled to expose the mole.

Under instruction from Oliver Lacon, the civil servant responsible for overseeing the intelligence services, Smiley begins a secret investigation into the events surrounding Operation Testify, believing it will lead him to the identity of the mole, who Moscow Centre has given the cover name Gerald. With the help of his protégé Guillam, who is still in the Circus, he gradually uncovers an ingenious plot, as well as the ultimate betrayal—of country, of the service and of friendship


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