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Saturday, November 5, 2011

DVD Release: Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy and Smiley's People

     Now available from Acorn Media on DVD is the classic British series, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and its sequel, Smiley's People. Both are based on books by John le Carre, and feature the same lead character. In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, George Smiley (Alec Guinness, Star Wars), the retired Deputy Head of the Service, hunts for a Soviet mole in the Circus, a top level spy agency within MI6. With suspicion narrowed down to four people, Smiley has to call on every one of his considerable talents to figure out which one it is. This is a Cold War tale, with the threat of war and Soviet aggression hanging over Smiley's head. When his own past comes into play, things get personal for Smiley.

     Of course, this being a hero piece, Smiley triumphs. He sets an elaborate trap, and catches the mole, someone Smiley knows all to well. Before justice can be served, though, the man is killed. This is one mystery that Smiley cannot solve. Besides, he has his hands full trying to whip the Circus back into shape.

    Smiley's People is along similar lines, as Smiley is once more plucked from retirement. He is disappointed to find the Circus back in disarray, more political than practical. While tying up loose ends from a friend's death, Smiley is once more drawn into Soviet espionage, and is soon back on the trail of Karla (Patrick Stewart, Star Trek: The Next Generation), who escaped him before. Others have tried to clean up the mess, but it's up to Smiley, who actually puts relevance in a source, to dig deeper and find the truth. Unfortunately, the people now running the Circus would rather scandal be avoided than criminals caught.

     Smiley is not one to roll over, so pushes on, traveling where he must to uncover why people are dying. However, during this journey, Smiley begins to change. Not exactly warm and fuzzy in the first place, he realizes that the only way to defeat Karla is to become equally ruthless. This means he must cut off contact with loved ones, and do what he has to. The cost may be more than he'd like. Which begs the question, when is a win really a win? What if exposing the truth is not worth it?

     Hailed by many as brilliant, these two series have garnered their fair share of awards. Emmy nominated, and BAFTA winning, the subtleties of performance and story combine to make a truly memorable tale. Despite being released in 1979 and 1982, respectively, there is nothing lost. All of the elements that matter don't seem dated, even if the Russian threat does. More importantly, the essence of humanity and questions of morality survive and matter as strongly as ever. Plus, both look fantastic, filmed on location in London, Paris, Berne, Hamburg.

     Guinness delivers what some consider the performance of his career. He is surrounded by a number of other talents, including Stewart, Eileen Atkins (Doc Martin), Bill Paterson (Law & Order: UK), Anthony Bale (Game, Set, and Match), Bernard Hepton (The Charmer), Andy Bradford (Dixon of Dock Green), Michael Byrne (Coronation Street), Michael Jayston (Emmerdale Farm), George Sewell (The Detectives), Ian Richardson (Bleak House), and more. It is definitely easy to watch a cast such as this deliver an engrossing story.

     The extras are light, as usual for these value releases of older series. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has a nearly half hour interview with the books' author, his bio and booklist, production notes, fimlographies, and a glossary of terms and characters. Smiley's People has another twenty minutes with le Carre, as well as the bio, booklist, glossary, filmographies, and production notes. In short, the two have very similar bonus features.

     In short, for the low price offered, these two sets are well worth the cost. Whether you are discovering the stories for the first time, or remember fondly the original broadcasts, I highly recommend picking up both sets. Plus, it couldn't be more timely to review these productions, as a film adaptation of Tinker, et al will hit theaters this December, starring Gary Oldman and Colin Firth.

     Buy Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People, on DVD now.

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