Tinker, Tailor: the mystery of those great reviews
Film critics loved the film version of Le Carre’s novel – so why are so many people walking out?
WHAT'S going on? Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, made by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson and starring the cream of British acting, has received rave reviews from critics, and yet numerous reports have reached The First Post of audience members walking out of London cinemas.
The Cold War thriller based on John Le Carre's 1974 novel received almost unanimous praise from critics at the Venice Film Festival and when it premiered in Britain earlier this month.
The Guardian called it "skin-crawlingly atmospheric", Empire lauded it as "utterly absorbing and extremely smart" and the Hollywood Reporter dubbed it "a solid piece of thinking-man's entertainment for upmarket thriller audiences".
But despite the overwhelmingly glowing reviews, word-of-mouth since its opening has tended to the opposite. Many cinema-goers complain that the film is boring and confusing and the twittersphere is alive with accounts of people walking out.
One tweeter complained: "I lost 45mins of my life today watching tinker, tailor, blah blah whatever it's called! It's rubbish! Avoid!… I walked out!!" Another bemoaned the film was so slow she "could have read the book quicker".
Irish writer and film maker Kieran Majury tweeted from Odyssey Cinemas: "Kenneth Branagh just walked out of Tinker Tailor." And Jemima Khan tweeted: "Controversially I thought Tinker Tailor was meretricious, self-satisfied nonsense. Walked out after half hour as it was making my brain ache."
It seems the complainants cross all age groups – it's not just grumpy old men who remember Alec Guinness as Smiley in the BBC series - and include film fans who admired Alfredson's Let The Right One In and readers who love everything Le Carre writes. Those who have told The First Post they hated the film include a respected film producer and screenwriter.
Reasons offered include these two. First, it’s all right to 'lose' the viewer for a while in the twists and turns of a seven-part TV series, but you can't get away with that in a two-hour movie. Second, the character of Smiley was central to the TV series. Although Gary Oldman's interpretation of the spymaster has been generally praised, the character seemed more abstract, peripheral even, in Alfredson's film.
The veteran London film critic George Perry told The First Post he was not surprised at all to hear of the walkouts – he would have walked out himself if he hadn't been watching for professional reasons. "It was boring, largely incomprehensible, dismally shot, utterly unconvincing – should I go on?" he asked.
He could not explain why so many fellow critics liked it so much. But he felt it was one of the "pointless remakes" of which there have been many recently.
Last year's Brighton Rock was a miserable attempt at a remake of the Boulting Brothers' 1947 classic, said Perry, and be warned, there's another pointless remake coming down the pipeline – Terence Davies's version of The Deep Blue Sea.
The 1955 film version starring Vivien Leigh and Kenneth More wasn't a patch on Terence Rattigan's original play, but this remake is even worse.
Judge for yourselves - whatever the critics might say - when Davies's film premieres at the London Film Festival next month.
In the meantime, perhaps the actor Paul Bettany has the best explanation. Talking in today's Guardian, he says: "Films were just better in the past. Know what I mean?" ·
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