troperville

tools

toys

SubpagesAwesome
Film
Funny
Literature
Main
Series
Tearjerker
Trivia
YMMV

main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Film: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
aka: The Quest For Karla
For a guy named "Smiley", he sure looks serious.

Ricki Tarr: She claimed to have information vital to the safeguarding of the Circus.
George Smiley: Anything more?
Ricki Tarr: I said that she had information concerning a Double Agent.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is an espionage thriller directed by Tomas Alfredson and adapted from the John le Carré novel of the same name, the first in The Quest for Karla trilogy. The film was released in September, 2011.

Set in the 1970s, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), once a master spy for "the Circus", is pulled out of retirement by his former colleague Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) for one last job: rooting out a Russian mole from among the upper echelon of the Circus' leadership. To do so, Smiley must dig into some of the most dramatic incidents in recent Circus history: the tale of AWOL spy Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), the ousting of former chief "Control" (John Hurt), the leadership coup that put Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) in the top job, a botched operation in Hungary that resulted in the public wounding and capture of Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), a covert intelligence source code-named "Witchcraft", and even the persistent rumours that Circus officer Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) has been having an affair with Smiley's wife. All this leads to a wider conspiracy that Smiley must unravel before the Russian spymaster known as Karla uses it to destroy the Circus.

The film has been a financial success and a critical darling, garnering a slew of nods from the BAFTAs and the British Independent Film Awards. Gary Oldman received his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor, and the adapted screenplay and original score are nominated as well. Both Gary Oldman and Tomas Alfredson have expressed a willingness to return for a sequel based on Smiley's People, the third book in Le Carre's The Quest for Karla trilogy note .

The page for the original novel (and the rest of the trilogy) can be found here; the BBC miniseries starring Alec Guinness as George Smiley are here.


Tropes present in this work include:

  • Actor Allusion: It seems that John Hurt always had a lot of experience with British political extremes and secret services.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: A minor example, but Peter is portrayed as gay in this movie.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The order of events are changed and one character is merged.
  • All-Star Cast
  • Ambiguously Gay: Haydon is bisexual, but just how "inseparable" he and Prideaux are is never made clear. Their relationship is certainly intense.
  • Anachronic Order: Just like the original novel. The film uses a clever technique to help the viewer keep track of the flashbacks—at the beginning, shortly after his forced retirement from the Circus, Smiley is shown buying a new pair of glasses in a different style. So the flashbacks to Control's time in power are immediately recognisable because Smiley is wearing his old pair of glasses.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Smiley.
  • Blackmail: Smiley threatens to deport Toby Esterhase to Vienna, likely ensuring his assassination unless he reveals the address of the London safe house.
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water: Boris winds up eviscerated in a bathtub.
  • Boom, Headshot: The fates of Irina and Haydon. Though Haydon's is more of a "pop" than a "boom".
  • Bowties Are Cool: Toby Esterhase is never seen without one.
  • Broken Bird: Irina
  • Being Good Sucks: Irina puts her life on the line to reveal there is a mole at the Circus, her reward is to be tortured and shot in front of Prideaux. On the other hand, she was actually trying to sell the identity of her allies for her own benefit, so while what happens to her definitely sucks, it's not the consequence of "being good."
    • Most of the secret agents - apparently doing a difficult, dangerous job out of loyalty to their country doesn't get anyone much in the way of rewards. If they're not murdered in the course of their duties, then they get to retire with a severance package so paltry that the two retired agents we see are working as an au pair and a schoolteacher to make ends meet. Oh, and for the ones still working in the service: good luck having a happy home life! It seems like the scene where Guillam has to go home and kick his boyfriend out, for fear that the man will be used against him, only exists to reinforce this.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The mole has been outed and assassinated for his treachery, Smiley's wife has come home and he has been promoted to head of the Circus and has a new protege. But Irina was tortured and killed and Ricki Tarr is devastated. Prideaux has killed his best friend and three senior officers' careers are destroyed and they have to live with the fact that they inadvertently helped the Russians. Plus, there seems to be no indication that Guillam is going to get his boyfriend back.
  • Butt Monkey: Toby Esterhase.
    • Guillam to some extent: his reward for being Smiley's assistant and doing the dangerous and distasteful legwork of the investigation is having to make his lover, who is male, leave him without telling him the truth of the situation in case his involvement in the case brings his personal life under scrutiny.
    • Prideaux counts as well: he is tortured for months, returns to England only to be kicked out of the service and forced to take a job as a schoolteacher, manages to bond with a kid only to shove him away upon realization that he's turning the kid into himself, and ends up killing his best friend/possible lover at the end of the film.
  • Casabianca: Guillam recites this to test the hidden recorders in the safehouse. Likely for Rule of Symbolism (and for reasons of copyright), given the poem's association with the obsolescent values of the past, as in the novel it was a Hollywood Tone-Deaf rendition of "Old Man River".
  • Chekhov's Gun: The lighter Smiley gives to Karla.
  • Code Name: The trailer explains that the film's title is derived from code names given to the potential moles.
  • Cold War
  • Composite Character: Collins's function in the story remains the same. But he is given the name of another character, Jerry Westerby.
  • Creator Cameo: John Le Carré appears as a sozzled spy at the Christmas party scene.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Prideaux is subjected to it. Irina clearly was too by the looks of her when she was brought in.
  • Death by Adaptation: Tufty Thesinger. Played with for Jim Prideaux, who we find out is alive halfway through the film.
  • Demoted to Extra: Fawn, who does not even merit an introduction in this version.
  • Dyeing for Your Art: Oldman's hair (lighter) and waistline (heavier).
    • Benedict Cumberbatch as well - Guillam's hair is blonde, while Mr. Cumberbatch is naturally a ginger.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Early in the film Smiley is riding in a car with the others, who all try ineffectively to swat a bee, while Smiley simply watches its movement and winds down the window at exactly the right time to allow it to escape. This foreshadows his technique of finding the mole not through brute force but by clever entrapment.
  • Everybody Knew Already: That Bill Haydon was Ann Smiley's lover. It turns out Haydon deliberately let Smiley know as part of a Batman Gambit by Karla.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Bill Haydon, who realises in one glance how badly he betrayed Prideaux.
  • The Faceless: Karla and Ann Smiley.
  • Fly Crazy: In Smiley's car. A bit of Foreshadowing in that the other characters ineffectively swat at it while Smiley just watches it and opens his window at just the right moment so it leaves—suggesting how his method of finding the mole differs from others'.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The suspected moles — George Smiley (melancholic), Bill Haydon (phlegmatic), Roy Bland (leukine), Toby Esterhause (sanguine), and Percy Alleline (choleric).
  • Get Out: A sign of Control's increasing breakdown. "OUT! ALL OF YOU!"
    • Percy Alleline to Peter Guillam, after accusing Peter of being in contact with Tarr.
    • Haydon gives a curt "Out!" after discovering Prideaux has been shot in Hungary.
  • Handicapped Badass: Prideaux's pupils are mocking his crooked back when an owl flies out of the chimney. Prideaux swats it out of the air and kills it with just two blows from a ruler. Cue Stunned Silence.
  • Heroic BSOD: Control when he's informed that Operation Testify has gone belly up. He refuses to give the duty officer any instructions on how to handle the crisis; just sits staring at him in silence.
  • Hey, Wait!: Peter has just stolen the file when he's detained and grilled about his connection to Tarr. It's not surprising he flips out and assaults Tarr afterwards.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Jim uses a silenced rifle that goes fwip! to finally kill Bill Haydon. It seems a little out of place, but IMFDB notes that it's a .22 LR BRNO 452—a rifle that, when loaded with subsonic ammunition, really is as quiet as it is portrayed.
  • Hope Spot: Irina's appearance at Prideaux's interrogation.
  • Innocent Bystander: Prideaux realises he's in a trap and starts walking way from his contact. A Hungarian agent panics, rushes into the street and fires a warning shot...right into the head of a woman breast-feeding a baby.
  • It Was a Gift: Smiley's lighter. He makes the mistake of letting Karla walk off with it; years later Karla uses it to throw suspicion on Smiley.
    "It was a gift. For George, from Ann. All my love."
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique / Brown Note: Prideaux is strapped to a chair with headphones over his ears wired to a tape recorder that plays loud noises at random intervals.
  • Karla Houdini
  • Kink Meme: Yep, even Smiley gets in on the action. No surprises that Tarr/Guillam and Prideaux/Haydon are the two most popular pairings. Found here
  • Mandatory Unretirement: Smiley.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Several characters suffer this when they are told that there's a mole and the Witchcraft material is completely useless.
  • The Mole
    • Mole in Charge: The Russian mole is believed to be one of the top four people in the Circus.
  • Montage Out
  • Moscow Centre
  • Mythology Gag, overlapping with Genius Bonus: it seems odd how Smiley is not a codename from the Tinker, Tailor nursery rhyme, right? Well, remember that Jim Prideaux asks at one point if he is a "beggar man, thief?" Then recall how the nursery rhyme continues: rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. And, yes, "beggar man" was Smiley's codename in the original book.
  • Nice Shoes: Haydon wears a pair of orange suede desert boots, as did Alec Guiness' Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  • No Name Given: Control, Karla.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Connie reminisces lovingly about what good times she had with "the boys" at Sarratt in the 1940s, until Smiley finally points out that they were there because of World War II.
    • Which doesn't stop her regarding it as a golden time when 'men could be proud to be English'.
  • Nothing Personal: Bill Haydon re sleeping with Ann.
  • Not So Different: Smiley to Karla.
    Smiley (in reminiscence): We are not so different, you and I. We've both spent our lives looking for the weaknesses in one another's systems.
  • Not So Stoic: Smiley asks Haydon why Karla didn't have him try for Control's job.
    Haydon: I'm not his bloody office boy!
    Smiley: WHAT ARE YOU THEN, BILL?!
    Haydon: (beat) I'm someone who's made his mark.
  • Perp Sweating: Smiley takes this trope Up to Eleven with Toby Esterhase by landing a fucking plane two feet away during their conversation. This is ridiculously unsafe.
  • Pet the Dog: As a point of suspicion. One would expect Jim Prideaux to be killed after he's interrogated by the Soviets, but instead he's sent home in one piece - implying that the mole pulled strings to protect him. Why? Because the mole is Haydon, who actually wept in distress when he found out Prideaux had been captured.
    • Though Karla doesn't miss the chance to put suspicion on Smiley by showing Prideaux the lighter he got from Smiley.
  • Precision F-Strike: "I don't know about you, George, but I'm feeling seriously underfucked." The first use of the F-word in the movie; also the most memorable, and a Crowning Moment of Funny.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: With the prettiest little tear of blood running down from the bullet hole just below Bill Haydon's completely intact eye. Averted when the next shot shows the body laying face down on the ground, and you can see who knows what through the huge gaping hole on the back of the skull.
    • Also the bystander shot in Hungary.
  • Reluctant Retiree: When Control is forced to leave, he announces that Smiley is retiring with him. It's implied that Control had come to believe that Smiley was the mole. Ironically Smiley is too loyal to protest at this unasked-for resignation.
  • Right Behind Me: Twice. First time, Peter Guillam is just about to escape the Circus after grabbing some secret files for Smiley, only for Roy Bland to appear right behind him in the same lift. The second, Toby Esterhase himself is leaving, as the lift door opens to reveal Peter waiting for him.
  • Role Association: Sherlock and Eames must help Sirius Black, on Ollivander's posthumous orders, find a spy among the likes of Mr. Darcy, Dumbledore's brother, and the voice of Dobby the Elf.
  • Saying Too Much: Smiley in his attempted recruitment of Karla, distracted by troubles at home.
    "I kept harping on about his damn wife. Telling him more about me than...I should have walked out of course."
  • The Seventies: The film revels in the time period.
  • Slashed Throat: How Tufty Thesinger meets his Death by Adaptation.
  • Stop or I Will Shoot!: A Hungarian agent shoots Prideaux In the Back as he's walking away, even though the alley is blocked off by other agents. The KGB are furious because they wanted him alive and there was no chance of him escaping anyway.
  • Spy Couple: Irina and Boris posing as married trade delegates.
  • Spy Fiction
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: At the end, Julio Iglesias perky cover of 'La Mer' plays as a montage of the Christmas party, Bill Haydon being shot by Jim Prideaux, a distraught Ricki Tarr looking in a shop window and Smiley ascending the stairs of the Circus to take his place as head of MI6.
  • Straight Gay: Unlike the book, Peter Guillam is portrayed as homosexual in the film. It's not even revealed until partway into the movie, when we see Guillam asking his lover to leave.
  • Tears of Blood: When Bill Haydon is shot by Jim Prideaux with a small calibre bullet through the head, a single teardrop of blood runs down his cheek, matching the Single Tear shed by Jim.
  • Title Drop: In the trailer only, which alters Control's dialogue when he's explaining the code names to Prideaux.
  • The Stoic: Smiley, obviously.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: One noted comment on the film is how complicated the plot becomes at times, with some reviewers even joking that you may need to bring along a notebook to keep up with all of the plotlines and characters.
  • The Watson: Peter Guillam.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Ann Smiley. Averted in the case of Ricki Tarr, whose daughter and common-law wife don't exist in this adaptation.

SherlockBAFTA    
Bad TeacherFilm Brain ListMelancholia
The Three Musketeers (2011)Films of the 2010sTomboy
Super 8The SeventiesThe Virgin Suicides

alternative title(s): The Quest For Karla
random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
42825
28