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Smiley's People
Smiley's People
Actors: Alec Guinness, Eileen Atkins, Bill Paterson, Vladek Sheybal, Andy Bradford
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television, Mystery & Suspense
NR     2004     5hr 24min

The thrilling sequel to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — Both had supposedly outlived their usefulness to the Circus, the British Secret Intelligence Service: George Smiley, the retired head of espionage, and General Vladimir...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Alec Guinness, Eileen Atkins, Bill Paterson, Vladek Sheybal, Andy Bradford
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Acorn Media
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 08/10/2004
Original Release Date: 10/25/1982
Theatrical Release Date: 10/25/1982
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 5hr 24min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 3
SwapaDVD Credits: 3
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 16
Edition: Box set,Collector's Edition
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
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Movie Reviews

Top rate LeCarre from the BBC . . . but beware
Lawrence Kinsley | Lakeland, FL USA | 08/07/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"`Smiley's People' wrapped up the three John LeCarre Cold War novels concerning George Smiley, the lumpy, unprepossessing but brilliant British spymaster who plays a deadly game with his Russian nemesis, Karla, in the dark world of East/West espionage. As played marvelously by Alec Guinness in this filmed version from the BBC, no matter how bland his character attempts to be he is always the center of attraction, though surrounded by great, mostly British character actors, among others Bernard Hepton as the shady, pseudo-sophisticated Toby Esterhase; Anthony Bates offering a somewhat more vulnerable version of his trademark supercilious performance as Smiley's former superior; Eileen Atkins as the doughty émigré mother of a long lost daughter who Karla has picked for his own daughter's new persona; Michael Lonsdale as one of Karla's bumbling Russian agents-in-place; and Barry Foster, in a delightful comic turn as the new head of the British `Circus' which has brought back the retired Smiley for one more foray out into `the cold.' Michael Byrne competently takes over the role of Smiley's protégé Peter Guillam from Michael Jayston (marginally better) in `Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.' Although based on a dubious premise - Karla is looking for a covering `legend' for his daughter, a schizophrenic, whom he desires to be treated in the West rather than in Russia - once accepted the film slowly but powerfully builds to the final confrontation between the two long time adversaries.
Though Karla himself is played by the accomplished actor Patrick Stewart, make no mistake about it: if he hadn't gone on to stardom on American TV as Star Trek's Captain Picard, his effective but non-speaking mini-role would hardly have been noted. The DVD, typical of many BBC releases from film rather than video is disappointingly grainy, though the sound is adequate. But buyer beware: for some reason the BBC for their American market has released the cut, PBS version, which is minus several excellent scenes. At the end of the Foster turn, for example, when he suggests to Smiley that they now retire to the rooftop garden for further discussion (during which he avows, in a display of typical Le Carre cynicism, that if the Karla operation is blown the Circus will disavow both it and Smiley), the next scene instead opens the following day with the operation already begun. Also missing is a delicious later scene when Hepton in his inimitable fashion `persuades' the overbearing Lonsdale that the latter's sudden attempt to hold the operation ransom is misguided at best. Why the BBC chose to do this is a mystery, since I was able some years ago to obtain a tape copy of `People' from an original BBC master, and there should have been no reason why they didn't use such a master for this release.
Nevertheless the movie is still highly recommended; now if only the BBC would finally release that other masterpiece of English spycraft, Len Deighton's `Game, Set and Match' starring the splendid Ian Holm, our libraries of these more intelligent forays into the underworld of Cold War espionage would be just about complete!

Alec Guinness reprises George Smiley in a marvelous sequel
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 02/16/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"SMILEY'S PEOPLE is a slight come down after the glories of TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY, but this needs some explanation. The latter is in my opinion one of the three or four finest things ever produced for television, while the former is merely one of the fifty or so finest things. He is easily one of the best things ever to appear on TV; it simply fails to be as glorious as the preceding series.

Both series contain virtues that are rare in television: enormous patience in developing a complex and challenging narrative, a refusal to insult the intelligence of the viewer (instead of making every point achingly obvious, they assume we'll figure it out eventually), a willingness to be content with small moments of drama instead of epic action sequences, and acting that can compete with that of the most outstanding Shakespearean production. In every way, this is the anti-Jame Bond spy drama. Though George Smiley's nemesis Karla (played in both series by Patrick Stewart, a nonspeaking role he undertook several years before becoming famous in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) emerges as a more than adequate villain, he would be by far the least charismatic bad guy in all of the Bond corpus. Narratively, almost nothing happens in contrast to a Bond film. The series contains the results of violence, but almost all of the actual violence takes place off screen, or even prior to the narrative timeline. Like a Bond film, the series features several international locations, but there is none of the cosmopolitanism of the Bond films, and absolutely none of the glamour. Indeed, much of the series features sets that are a bit dowdy, worn, or frayed. But the greatest contrast with the Bond films comes with George Smiley himself. Unlike Bond, Smiley is old, completely lacking in physical prowess, decidedly unsexy, fat, a complete failure in his relations with women, never seen with a gun in his hand, and in contrast to Bond's sizzling verbal repartee is laconic and sphinx-like. Yet, by the end of the series, one senses that Smiley's accomplishments in unraveling the mystery confronting him and the ends to which he puts the information he discovers are utterly beyond the abilities of the comparatively clumsy Bond. On top of all else, one gets the sense that real spying bears vastly more resemblence to Smiley's undertakings than Bond's.

A number of things make this a successful series, including superb direction, an excellent yet subtle score, a superb cast of mainly stage actors (including a very young Alan Rickman as a hotel desk clerk), and a fabulous script that manages to digest into filmmable form a very complex novel. But if one has to point to one thing, it has to be Alec Guinness. Although Guinness enjoyed a long and remarkably productive career, his portrayal of George Smiley represents one of the highlights of his career. It was also probably his last truly great role. To be honest, Guinness was in many ways inappropriate for the role. In the books Smiley is often described as looking froglike, a description that hardly applies to Guinness. He is also fat, and never quite fits into his expensive if traditional clothing. But Guinness enjoys in spades the one absolutely crucial quality that Smiley is also said to possess: a melifluous, melodidic, beautiful voice. I loved listening to Guinness throughout this series, almost never for what he said so much as for how he said it.

I've never been one for whom discs turned on the special features, but I should add for those for whom such things are important that this set has relatively little in that line. On the other hand, the images are quite vivid. In fact, SMILEY'S PEOPLE looks markedly better than did the earlier presentation of TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY. But all this aside, these two sets together represent absolutely essential viewing. Only only a very, very few occasions has anything better than this appeared on television, and just as rarely has television been graced with a performance as outstanding as Alec Guinness's depiction of George Smiley."
Refreshingly intelligent entertainment
Joseph Haschka | Glendale, CA USA | 04/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Perhaps two of the most intelligent television miniseries ever made are the BBC adaptations of John le Carre's spy novels TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY and SMILEY'S PEOPLE, the latter being the sequel to the former. The late Sir Alec Guinness, who brilliantly starred as George Smiley in both, became identified with that character for all time.

As you may recall, TTSS and SP were the first and last books, respectively, of the Karla series. (The second, THE HONORABLE SCHOOLBOY, was never adapted to the small screen. The plot was considered too complex.) In TTSS, Smiley, formerly right-hand man to the Director of the British Secret Intelligence Service (the "Circus" or MI-6), is brought out of retirement to dig out a highly placed Soviet mole embedded in the Circus. In SP, it's several years later, and Smiley is brought out of retirement a second time by the politicians to "tidy up" after a Russian emigre, a former general, is brutally murdered on Hampstead Heath. Because the old soldier was an occasional source of information for the Service, the "Minister" wants George to make sure there's no embarrassment to the government in the affair. Smiley soon discovers that the killing has a link to Karla, his old nemesis in the KGB's Moscow Center. Karla has been a thorn in the side of MI-6 for years, and was the one who controlled the mole that was Smiley's quarry in TTSS. In SP, George finally brings Karla down.

Several of the characters appearing in TTSS appear also in SMILEY'S PEOPLE, providing a nice touch of continuity: Smiley, Oliver Lacon (the Minister's lackey), Anne (Smiley's wife), Connie (MI-6's Head of Research, retired), Toby Esterhasy (one of the high Circus executives under suspicion in TTSS), Karla, and Peter Guillam (Smiley's right hand in TTSS). And, except for the Guillam character, where Michael Byrne takes over the role from Michael Jayston, all actors from TTSS return in SP.

Some will think that the miniseries version of SP and the original book are boring: no special FX, no shoot-outs, no wild chases, and no babes. If that's what you want, then le Carre's stories are not for you. It's all about plot and character development, and the slow, methodical process of putting together the intricate espionage puzzle at hand. If the viewer hasn't read the original book, then he/she is advised to take notes as the storyline unfolds.

Had SMILEY'S PEOPLE been made for the Big Screen, then Guinness should surely have won an Oscar. George is the essence of inscrutable as he peers at his world through owlish, heavy-rimmed spectacles. Despite his name, he smiles only once - perhaps twice - during the entire six hour run time. Mild irritation is his only occasional manifestation of anger. Outside of his work, as Anne puts it rhetorically in TTSS, "Life's a great puzzle to you, isn't it George?" One senses a great deal of hurt in Smiley, much of it heaped on him by the same Anne, a serial adulteress. When someone says to Smiley, "My love to Anne", he may mean it, literally. Even Karla's mole in the Circus shared Anne's bed. But in his element, George has no equal in puzzle-solving, and Karla's days are numbered.

My other favorite performance in SMILEY'S PEOPLE is that of Bernard Hepton as Toby Esterhasy. As he stage manages in episode six the sting that will result in Karla's downfall, his enthusiasm is positively infectious. It brought a grin to my face, if not Smiley's.

The DVD also has an interview with le Carre. At one point, he describes the evolution of Smiley, his greatest fictional character. Interestingly, the author said he'd wanted to develop his hero's persona in future books -perhaps to show George's darker side - but was prevented from doing so by the public's merger of Alec Guinness and Smiley via the TTSS and SP screen productions. After all, Guinness is a British icon, and no liberties could be taken. Ironically, this resulted in Smiley's early demise and subsequent absence from later novels.

I cannot recommend SMILEY'S PEOPLE, or TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY, too highly. Obtain them both, and settle down for twelve hours of magnificent Cold War drama."
Even better in DVD ... better than the VHS, better than TTSS
D. Schulz | PLANO, TX USA | 09/07/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"SMILEY'S PEOPLE seems to suffer in reviews when compared to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but having watched both this weekend in their DVD format, I think Smiley's People delivers more satisfaction overall, particularly for someone familiar with Cornwall (Le Carre).

TTSS was first and foremost a mystery (Is there a mole? If so, who is the mole? How do we trap the mole?). This one is something different. The mystery (why was Vladimir shot?) is pretty well resolved by the middle of the affair.

Smiley's People is a dramatic explication of the catalog of techniques known as to readers as the "tradecraft" ... from "Moscow Rules," to "Honey Pots", to "The Burn," to "The Interrogation," to the use of "Lamplighters" and "Scalphunters," just to watch Alec Guiness go through these processes is a master class in cold war humint.

And the performances are also better: Le Carre (in DVD interview) admits that Guiness so "owned" the character of Smiley at this point, that he intended "Smiley's People" as the last time to use the character (althought he previously had plans had been for an entire series of Smiley mysteries) because he had lost control over it. It is obvious in Guiness's performance that he owns the role, moreso than in TTSS. Similarly, Tobe Esterhazy, Connie Sachs (not Molly as noted below), and Peter Guillame are more comfortable in their portrayals than previously.

No question: this is one of the great mini-series... now we need to see The Perfect Spy and Noble House on DVD too!!"