Totally Traumatized by Tinker Tailor? There’s Help for That.

No, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not incomprehensible.

Not at all. … 

Actually, I found it to be more comprehensible, in some ways, than the miniseries from the 1970s, in which Alec Guinness played Smiley.

Difficult? Sure. Challenging? In ways that remind me of old-fashioned spy film, the movies that asked audiences to lean forward and think fast, the movies that rewarded more than one viewing.

I saw the film with my longtime moviegoing friend Danny Walter, who has never read the book or seen the miniseries, and at the end he just shrugged and said, “I had no trouble. Made sense to me.”

So no, not incomprehensible. Just more difficult for some moviegoers than others.

And I loved it. Loved it.

Great casting. Beautifully shot. Supremely designed, with a style that’s alive with verticals, boxes, and textures. The editing is occasionally awkward, suggesting that a longer cut exists. (I hope so!)

I want to see a whole series with Gary Oldman as Smiley. He’s just masterful. And Benedict Cumberbatch is strong as his right-hand man.

If you were baffled by the film, well, there’s help for that.

Film critic David Bordwell has just posted a guide to navigating the labyrinth.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at