John Le Carre followed up his hit novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with another equally enigmatic one Smiley’s People. Set several years later it once again has George Smiley as the main character. Following Smiley’s unmasking of the Mole, Gerald, George found himself once more on the outside.

His call to action comes after an old and trusted ex spy turns up very dead on Hampstead Heath. The Circus has changed following the Bill Haydon fiasco, and all contact with the enemy, double agents, or the emigre community has been frowned upon. George is asked to clean up, make sure there are no loose ends, “after all he is of your generation” the somewhat pompous Oliver Lacon entreats. The mission is merely to make sure that the ex spies bills are paid, and nothing could connect him to the Circus.

Spies do die, as do us all, but most of us do not meet our maker as the result of a hollow point bullet to the face. Once again George Smiley is on the hunt. Yes the gas bill gets paid, but there is more to the story.

George is a person that never takes things at face value, often the packaging is as important as the content. I have to admit that in some ways I have the Smiley gene. I picked up a book yesterday, and rather than launch into it I inspected it. The cover, the author, the imprint, the quality and style of the paper, the font, all of these seemingly incongruous things can tell you much without reading a single word.

It does not take George long to figure out that Vladamir’s death was hardly accidental. He was onto something, but what? A strange letter from a Russian emigre, and a 35mm camera frame are the only clues. Going against the express wishes of his masters Smiley heads into a period of discovery. Almost certainly the culprit, the cause of this upheaval is is his old advisory Karla. No one knows his real name, but he is known by the code name Karla. It sounds like a female name, but I believe it means fox in Russian. Karla has for many years frustrated western intelligence services.

For George Smiley, Karla represents the entire enemy target. While the clues lead in Karla’s direction, the tradecraft does not ring of Karla, he is meticulous, yet this adventure contains clowns?

Could it be that Karla is freelancing? Or trying to do something that his masters would not approve of?

Could this be the once chance that Smiley has to even the score with is old adversary? Over the years Smiley has let Karla slip through his fingers on more than one occasion. Could this be the turning point?

I think I would be a poor reviewer to spoil the story, I will let the story tell its own very unique version.

For the most part the producers have kept very close to Le Carre’s book, the one objection that I have is in the casting of Russian emigre Madame Ostrakova. The book has her as an overweight arthritic lady, the DVD has changed that image.

Putting my minor quibbles to the side, Smiley’s People is great TV. A six hour excursion into a world that very few have played in. I am sure that many people doubt that British Intelligence is quite as inept as Le Carre portrays them. So I will take this opportunity to tell a story. My first job was with the Atomic Energy Research folks in the UK, and although I worked in an area that did not involve bombs, it did have close ties. As a result I needed to be PV’d, that in English translates to Positively Vetted. I lived in a small village with about 300 other souls, a farming community, and my mother and father ran the local pub. One day two gentleman from London made the trip to West Hendred, dressed in dark three piece suits, bowler hats, umbrella’s and briefcases, and proceeded to knock on our neighbors doors to obtain their views about Simon Barrett. Needless to say this was a topic of great fun at the pub that night!

So, yes, it really was that inept. John Le Carre tells a great story, and one that alas is all too true.

You can get your copy of Smiley’s People from Acorn, just click on the DVD cover art.

Simon Barrett


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