It is logical that John le Carré's name is actually David John Moore Cornwell. After all, a pseudonym is only natural for a man so deeply ensconced in the world of political intrigue and reconnaissance. With a story as intricate as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it was almost unbelievable that le Carré would settle for being just an executive producer as opposed to one of the screenwriters. Especially considering that one of his most famous quotes is: "Seeing your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes." But then, maybe he was swayed when Gary Oldman was cast in the lead role of George Smiley and figured the acting would be enough if the story wasn't.
The last major filmic coup for le Carré was 1963's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (just one in a string of books showcasing his fascination with spies and the Cold War), starring another much lauded actor, Richard Burton. The only other standout film adaptation of one of his novels was 2001's The Constant Gardener. Unlike both of the aforementioned novels, the film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy bears the distinction of not being turned into a movie the same year as the release of the book (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy--commas and all--was first available on book shelves in 1974). Thus, it is a more thorough and objective look at the events and tone of the Cold War.
Because of the emphasis on secrecy during the Cold War, there were inevitably leaks of information in large doses to the wrong people--a fact that stresses another of le Carré's prevalent themes: It is human nature to partake in activities that have been forbidden. Consequently, a mole has surfaced in the highest level of Britain's intelligence agency (playfully dubbed "the Circus"). In order to discover the identity of the traitor, George Smiley (Oldman), a former member of the Circus, is dragged out of retirement to investigate.
Now, as with most films adapted from extremely intricate prose, there is, unavoidably, something missing in the translation. But therein lies the beauty of the casting of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: It doesn't matter if there are moments when you feel like you've forgotten you were supposed to be paying attention (a sad side effect of the movies we have grown accustomed to watching) because it is the acting and the understatedness of everything happening that is supposed to captivate us.
Regardless of how daft you might feel for not being able to pick up on some of the more obscure nuances, under Tomas Alfredson's (best known for Let the Right One In) direction, all of the most significant details shine through--from the subtlety of a look to the zoom-in on a chess piece. And P.S. If you're curious about the origination of the title, it pertains to the code names of those suspected of being a double agent. Except for "Spy." No one is code named that, but it sounded better than the other code names available: "Poorman" and "Beggarman." Tinker Tailor Soldier Poorman Beggarman wouldn't really work as a title, now would it?