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Smiley's People (1982)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Smiley's People (1982)
BBC, 27/9-25/10/1982
6x60 min episodes, colour
DirectorSimon Langton
Production CompanyBBC
In association withParamount Pictures
ProducerJonathan Powell
ScreenplayJohn Le Carré
 John Hopkins
From the novel byJohn Le Carré
PhotographyKenneth Macmillan
MusicPatrick Gowers

Cast: Alec Guinness (George Smiley), Curd Jürgens (The General), Eileen Atkins (Madame Ostrakova), Dudley Sutton (Oleg Kirov), Michael Gough (Mikhel), Vladek Sheybal (Otto 'The Magician' Leipzig)

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George Smiley is once again lured back into active service to settle an old score with his KGB nemesis, Karla

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When we left George Smiley at the end of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (BBC, 1979) he had been appointed acting head of British Intelligence. He had uncovered a mole within the Service (nicknamed 'The Circus' because the HQ is located near Cambridge Circus in London) that had been in the employ of Karla, Smiley's KGB opposite number at 'Moscow Centre'.

John Le Carré had followed this story with The Honourable Schoolboy (1977), but as much of the action was set in South East Asia and Smiley was featured less prominently, the BBC opted to adapt Smiley's People instead, jumping straight to the last book in the trilogy (all three since republished as 'The Quest for Karla'). As Le Carré had not been entirely happy with their previous adaptation, this time he came onboard as Executive Producer and co-writer with John Hopkins. Alec Guinness returns as Smiley, but only a few of the actors from the first series re-appear, including Sîan Phillips, Beryl Reid and Bernard Hepton as Toby Esterhase. In the latter case, the decision was made to bring the character closer to the original book, so that he now appears with a bouffant hairpiece and a Hungarian accent that he presumably regained after being kicked out of the 'Circus' at the end of Tinker, Tailor. Patrick Stewart returns as Karla, although as before he has no lines to speak, remaining an enigmatic, almost abstract adversary, the overcoming of which might give Smiley a fleeting sense of triumph, but no lasting satisfaction.

While the earlier series was set mostly in London, with sections in (what was then) Czechoslovakia and Portugal, the new story mostly takes place in Paris, Germany and Switzerland, with Smiley closing in on Karla by finding an unexpected weak spot while investigating the death of an ex-agent.

Guinness is superb, while the plot (as with Tinker, Tailor) functions mainly to support a series of short episodes featuring a rogue's gallery of frequently weary but still fascinating characters. The pace across the six one-hour episodes is occasionally a little too stately, meaning the main plot takes a little too long to come into focus; Smiley doesn't even appear for the first half-hour! However, this does ensure breathing room for a fine cast, featuring Curd Jürgens (in his final role), Maureen Lipman, Eileen Atkins, Barry Foster, Michael Elphick, Bill Paterson and, in a small supporting role, Alan Rickman.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Gregory calling (02:10)
2. Meeting Vladimir (4:03)
3. Vladimir's past (3:28)
Complete first episode (59:55)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)
Atkins, Eileen (1934-)
Elphick, Michael (1946-2002)
Foster, Barry (1927-2002)
Guinness, Alec (1914-2000)
Hopkins, John (1931-98)
Pitt, Ingrid (1937-2010)
Cold War Spies