The recent big screen adaptation of John le Carré’s novel (2011) turned out so well, you may wonder if the old BBC mini-series deserves a look, if it’s as good as you remember, if it merits nearly six hours of your time. Yes³! There’s plenty of material to justify the length, and the extra space helps fix the main weakness of the big screen version, not having the time to properly consider each of the four suspects. Secretly brought out of forced retirement to find the Russian ‘mole’ at the top of ‘the Circus,’ Alec Guinness's George Smiley gives a master class in the sheer force of listening. In this version, we feel as if we are playing this deadly game inside Guinness’s head, behind those crucifying eyeglasses instead of just watching it unfold. So, while the gasp-worthy moments in the new film version come off the beautifully choreographed action sequences, here, they come on a hush as Guinness puzzles things out for himself. And the effect is thrilling. The producers got lucky, going into production just as the BBC switched from shooting exteriors on film & interiors on video tape (a penny wise/pound foolish policy if ever there was one) to shooting everything on film. And they also got smart, hiring Tony Pierce-Roberts, years before he revivified the Merchant/Ivory films with A ROOM WITH A VIEW/’85, to shoot this in the underrated Super 16mm format. The original British broadcast ran 7 episodes. Stateside, PBS nipped it down to six, removing nearly 30 minutes. A new Acorn DVD edition keeps the six part format, but puts all the missing footage back in. Look for a running time of about 320 minutes. John Irvin’s helming; Arthur Hopcraft’s script; and a plus-perfect cast make this just about as good as these things get.
DOUBLE-BILL: Have a comparison party, check out the film version of TTSS. In fact, you could watch it first and then watch this after a spell. Watching it after this might just seem redundant.