Book Revue: Cold War version of le Carré - Tuesday, March 20
How time changes the nature of a movie adaptation
Toronto critic Geoff Pevere returns for our next Book Revue screening Tuesday, March 20, at 6:45 p.m.. He'll introduce the film and lead the post-screening discussion. As always, there will be a draw for free books and complimentary baked goods after the film, to give you a little boost of energy.
This month's Selection: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, the 1965 adaptation of John le Carré's novel, starring Richard Burton, Claire Bloom and Oskar Werner.
Geoff is unequivocal about this selection. "I love the Burton movie," he says.
"When Martin Ritt's adaptation of John le Carré’s career-making 1963 novel hit the screen, it was met with a combination of excitement and confusion: excitement because nobody had ever seen a spy movie quite like this one, and confusion for the same reason: where were the girls, the gadgets and the nuclear-armed supervillains?
"No, this was no Bond, but then le Carré was no Ian Fleming. Although the two authors shared a real-life history in the British security service, their approach to fictionalizing the experience was diametrically opposed. Where Fleming used his past as the raw material for macho, comic-book fantasy, le Carré captured the drab and tragic workaday reality of the spy business.
"This was what The Spy Who Came in From the Cold depicted with such stark power, and what Martin Ritt's movie captured with such electrifying precision. As the spy whose heart contradicts his duty, Richard Burton was smolderingly effective."
Why We Chose Spy
We chose Spy so that we could watch an adaptation contemporary to the time it portrayed -- Cold War espionage while the Cold War continued.
It offers an interesting contrast to the recent le Carré adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, with Gary Oldman as operative George Smiley and Colin Firth as you've never seen him before. Directed by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (who also did the remarkable 2008 vampire film Let the Right One In), it returns to The Revue for another run on Friday, March 23.
The Guinness Tinker Tailor
Geoff is a fan of the 1979 BBC mini-series adaptation of Tinker Tailor, starring Alec Guinness as Smiley. How does Oldman compare? Says Geoff: "Oldman's really, really good, but he's working in the service of a production that's not only a movie (the mini-series was about seven hours long), but a necessary contraction of the story. Where the TV show could walk around and breathe inside the book, the movie has to boil it down and translate it. So it's not nearly as subtle or resonant, but it does work very nicely as an interpretation of it."
Both Spy, starring Burton, and Tinker Tailor, starring Guinness, reflect a present reality, while the current Tinker Tailor projects the present onto the past.
"It works, mind you," says Geoff, "especially as a very dark metaphor for the brutality of working in any organization that's both ruthless and polite at the same time. . . I really thought this version was less about the Cold War than corporate downsizing. And that's a totally valid way of interpreting it."
More Reading Material
The Atlantic Magazine has a look at Smileys past and present. Click here.
An article in The Guardian about the enduring attraction of le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and why it's worth repeated readings 50 years after its publication.
Book Revue Tickets: $10 for members and seniors; $12 for non-members.