|London Streets in the '70s|
Britain that was a shadow of the “sun never sets on the British Empire.” I also remember living in a NATO nation in the middle of the Cold War and the feeling that East Germany and the USSR weren’t too far away so, hopefully, we’d stay close to the US, which everyone knew was the only superpower committed to the freedoms won at the end of World War II.
Two current films are grounded in Britain’s role in Europe and the world during the somber seventies. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, adapted from John le Carré’s modern class about a Russian mole operating at the highest level of the British spy service, nails the overcast look as a symptom of that era’s paranoia. Director Tomas Alfredson set Let The Right One In during the late ‘70s and that also felt perfect for a vampire suspense thriller in a Swedish apartment complex. Maybe Alfredson needs to choose a contemporary or different historical period for his next movie.
Le Carré worked as an MI6 officer, akin to a CIA agent, before writing spy novels. Tinker takes off from the suspicion that Roger Hollis, head of MI5 (sort of like the FBI) from 1956-1965, was a Russian double agent. Peter Wright in Spycatcher went further to state his belief that Hollis was working for the Russians. The British also believed that US intelligence undermined the Wilson government because he seemed too soft and left and might also have been connected to the Russians. The British leaders wanted to prove their loyalty to the Americans, while there were some rebels within the uppercrust that perversely felt a stronger kinship to the Soviets, even though the workers’ state had been flushed away by Lenin and Stalin through the mass assassinations of all dissenters and then the continued presence of their original allies that they viewed as political threats.
|Gary Oldman as Retired Agent George Smiley|
The movie is tough to navigate because of the continual flashbacks (of 6 – 18 months previous to the investigation) that aren’t introduced with any changes of lighting, music, or anything. It looks like a documentary, though one that’s been carefully shaped, but it loses storytelling clarity. I lived through this and read the book and there were a couple of times when I had to reply certain scenes from earlier in the movie to get where we were later. JFK used extensive flashbacks, but did so in a baroque fashion that rarely, if ever, stranded the audience. Tinker feels like fact based on fiction whereas JFK felt like fiction based on fact (even though it insisted upon its authenticity). JFK had greater suspense because we knew the stakes and we knew people were being killed within the United States to keep secrets. Tinker, while extremely tense, is not as suspenseful because we aren’t sure exactly what’s going on and the actors, though extraordinarily authentic, don’t give away much emotionally so there’s less for an audience member to either empathize with or jump onto as plot information. Plus, except for the very end, none of the deaths take place on British soil so the stakes don’t seem as high even though the security of Britain (and NATO and, therefore, world-wide democracy) is shaken. Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan either needed greater freedom to include about another fifteen minutes to underline plot points or they needed to restructure those flashbacks. Alfredson paces the first twenty minutes so slowly that you cannot tell what will be important.
It’s a classy film, terrific looking with a lot of excellent, invisible acting. Just a quick look indicates that one leader has been fired or a wince demonstrates that the traitor feels guilt and ambivalence. The younger generation of actors provides the zip to the whole enterprise.
Tom Hardy lights up the film as Ricky Tarr, the agent sent to Istanbul to investigate a Russian agent, though he ended up having an affair with the agent’s wife and wants to get her out of the USSR. Hardy stopped Inception in its tracks when he first appeared and that’s remarkable because he was acting with Leonard DiCaprio. Benedict Cumberbatch is both coltish and elegant as Peter Guillam, Smiley’s in-house investigator that has to keep his operation secret. Though he’s tall and almost has an aquiline visage, this is nothing like his remarkable work in the new Sherlock Holmes series on PBS. Guillam is both an honorable schoolboy and uncertain he’s up to saving Britannia. Mark Strong is Jim Prideaux, the agent shot at the beginning that then appears later as a schoolmaster and even later as an assassin. It’s an almost impossible role because there’s so little that’s explained, but Strong’s presence creates the only character with a soul. Strong was wonderful in The Long Firm a few years ago on TV and I’m just glad to see him pull off a decent role in a big movie.
|Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher|
|The Polarizing Views of Margaret Thatcher|
Are You Being Served, while referring to men as “weak as water, weak as water” when they wouldn’t volunteer for shenanigans. Slocombe would have played the doddering for laughs and that might have been a more successful choice. I wish Alexandra Roach, playing the young Thatcher, could have had more scenes to show Thatcher’s early marriage and relationship to her children. Another approach would have been only to concentrate on Thatcher wrestling the leadership of the Tories in 1975 and then being overthrown in 1990. It would have been ironic and tragic. Thirteen Days only dealt with Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, rather than his entire presidency. We saw him as a very complex leader and the political maneuvering was both intriguing and suspenseful, though we knew the outcome. My Week With Marilyn explores only a month in Monroe’s life, but it’s all we need to understand where she came from and where she’d end up.