Patricia Highsmith tells a succinctly apt anecdote on when she was approached by a studio to make another version of her 1950 novel Strangers on a Train, already immortalised by Alfred Hitchcock a year later. ‘There were requests to me “Can we make this?” I said that I have no rights. Contact the Hitchcock estate, which won't release it for a remake.’
Encapsulating the quandary and trepidation that remakes are now synonymous with, it was sacrilegious alone that someone somewhere pondered another version of Highsmith’s classic, while it was a sad state of affairs that her baby had effectively disowned her and had been adopted by Hitchcock. Another literary demigod, John le Carré, is unlikely to be cast in the shadows in favour of an iconic director, but he will be bracing himself for the first remake of one of his most lauded works this autumn.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’s trailer arrived to so much fanfare on the Guardian website Thursday afternoon that it trended worldwide on Twitter almost immediately. Complete with authentic cinematography via the developing Hoyte Van Hoytema, a mysteriously eerie soundtrack (an inspired use of Danny Elfman’s ‘The Wolfman’ motif) and the appearance of its starry main players, the signs are auspicious. And if interest wasn’t already high (it’s Swedish director Tomas Alfredson’s English-language debut – he of Let the Right One In fame) it’s starting to peak.
Remake, reimagining or rehash, the ‘r’ word and its synonyms prompt as many eyes rolling as does the news that a Michael Bay film has received the green light. And in the case of ‘Tinker’, for the elder statesmen it induces memories of the BBCs 1979 seven-part masterpiece featuring Alec Guinness in the central role of George Smiley, now depicted by Gary Oldman. Transferring BBC television on to the big screen has become a fad the last decade from the good (State of Play) to the mixed (Edge of Darkness) to the bad (The Singing Detective), and with the British film industry under greater scrutiny despite the sweeping success of The King’s Speech, it is easy to dismiss a new interpretation of Le Carré’s memorable espionage thriller. But it is worthwhile.
‘Tinker’ in the noughties has the potential to be a more sophisticated depiction of Le Carré’s novel...since there is an emphasis to sustain momentum crammed into a two-and-a-half hour plot.
Amidst the techno-babble from spoofs to sequels, the espionage genre is in need of a stimulant that harks back to its inception in the bleak and uncertain era of the Cold War. Sixty years on from Cambridge spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean fleeing to Moscow and exposed as double agents, ‘Tinker’ is set in said era (a decade or so later) as Smiley is lured back into MI6 (known in Le Carré speak as ‘The Circus’) to unearth a Soviet mole at the highest echelon of the organisation. Shootouts and action are discarded in favour of tense, cerebral, in-depth discussions which may easily have influenced Harold Pinter, and considering Le Carré’s own career at MI6, a tangible depiction of the spy world.
Cynicism runs amok ahead of many film releases nowadays, but the motives for this remake are honourable. The vast majority of the intended audience are unlikely to have seen John Irvin’s teleplay ingenuity 32 years ago and a big screen adaptation will reach a new demographic. In fact, it’s probably unfair, considering the stretch of time (2011s Ricki Tarr – Tom Hardy – was only two when the television series aired) to label Alfredson’s ‘Tinker’ an outright remake. This is not a cynical and superfluous option to capitalise on an original’s success – unlike Matt Reeves’ Let Me In or David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo versions – both released, or due to be, two years after the foreign language original premiered. The trailer to Fincher’s take is admittedly impressive but since the original was so peerless it remains questionable why it should be remade, despite the obvious factor of English-spaekrs’ insularity.
‘Tinker’ in the noughties has the potential to be a more sophisticated depiction of Le Carré’s novel (the 1979 series has a shoestring budget warmth about it) since there is an emphasis to sustain momentum crammed into a two-and-a-half hour plot rather than seven hours’ worth of detail. And with the Cold War having ended 20 years ago this Christmas, its forthcoming release is also pertinent. Politically, British-Russian relations are decidedly chilly following Alexander Litvinenko’s assassination in London in 2006 and the failed extradition of suspect Andrey Lugovoy, and filmically the wisdom of Le Carré’s duplicity and shock on screen invokes dewy-eyed nostalgia of 60s intelligence brilliance such as From Russia with Love, The Ipcress Files and Le Carré’s other spy classic The Spy Who Came in From The Cold.
German and Argentine scalps aside, Sven-Goran Eriksson compelled many an embittered supporter to detest the departing England coach-cum-mercenary five years ago. But with its thick cigarette smoke, Mad Men fashion, thespian cast and deception, it may be another Swede who reignites an institution to make them like they used to.
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