Sunday, January 17, 2016
What is best in life? The end of Smiley's People
John Le Carre's sharp and detailed spy novels make great TV and movies, and they're still making them today with great reward, but none of them could match the power of the last few minutes of the 1982 adaption of Smiley's People.
Alec Guinness' return to the role he mastered in an earlier Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy show was extraordinary. His Smiley is far more jovial and avuncular than, say, Gary Oldman's colder turn in the 2011 adaption of Tinker Tailor, but it's all just part of his spycraft, nailing his targets with a steel resolve hidden beneath the charm.
And then, at the end of Smiley's People, he realises that love is the key, and uses it to finally defeat a long-running enemy (who happens to be Patrick Stewart, who had the best scowl even then, which is good, because he doesn't get a line). But the only way he can do it is to cut himself off from his own emotions and feelings, and kill any love he has inside himself, or he could never live with it.
And that's what he does, and at his moment of greatest triumph, he is left hollow and unfulfilled, because he knows what he had to do to get there, and what he had to give up.
Spy games are rarely this powerful or true.