Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

By Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a movie based on Jean Le Carre’s novel by the same name. It’s the story of George Smiley and his efforts to root out a mole in MI-6 during the Cold War. Gary Oldman takes the lead with a heavy hitting cast including John Hurt and Colin Firth.


Jean Le Carre is the pen name of David John Moore Cornwell. Cornwell worked for the British Intelligence Services MI-5 and MI-6 from 1952 until 1964, during the time the Cambridge Five were passing information from those agencies to the Soviets. (See Holmes on the Cambridge Forty in Archives.) Some sources say one of their leaders, Kim Philby, worked behind the scenes to have Cornwell dismissed from MI-6 and gave his name to the Soviets, ending Cornwell’s intelligence career.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the novelisation of the hunt for the Cambridge spies, and the mole Smiley is searching for is based on Kim Philby. Let this be a reminder to all of you who know authors. Don’t mess with us or your dastardly deeds will be immortalized.

As a veteran of the Cold War, Holmes’ comments regarding the nature of this movie are far more erudite than my own so I will leave further analysis to him. However, this movie did have me asking him one question. Do top-level intelligence officers actually pause and stare meaningfully at each other that often during the course of their days?

His answer when he quit laughing? “They do sometimes get very quiet in meetings when they are thinking. In this movie, though, they were giving the audience time to think. It had to do with the complexity of the movie and not with intelligence procedures.”


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is, in my view, one of the more realistic spy films that I have seen. If you’re in the mood for wild chase scenes, lots of beautiful, naked women, handsome hunks, and running gun fights, keep looking. This isn’t it. If, on the other hand, you want a realistic story about Cold War spooks, this is a movie well worth watching.

This is a spy movie but not an “action” movie. Much of the action that needs to take place is in the viewer’s mind. The viewer is given more than enough information to resolve all of the questions as long as the viewer stays engaged with the plot. This is not a movie to go to if your brain is tired and you need a laugh, graphic sex scenes or loud explosions.

If you intend to grope whomever you bring to the theater with you, go alone and grope them later. That tactic worked well for my wife and I. She went shopping, whereby she presumably temporarily avoided being groped by a dangerous man in a dark room, and I saw the movie while not allowing myself to be too distracted by any thoughts of groping. After giving fair warning to my young adult children that there would be no sex or wild shoot outs in the movie, they declined to see it. So I sat alone in the theater and, after politely asking* the elderly couple in the row in front of me to please stop their overt and not at all silent groping activity, I allowed myself to be carried back to rainy London nights during the Cold War.

Before I get on with the movie, let me take a moment to issue an important public service message. If you are between the ages of 18 and 40, please don’t embarrass me by making your groping activities too obvious while sitting near me. If you are over forty, I am even less inclined to tolerate your overt groping. If you lack the skills to grope your play partner properly and discreetly without annoying grumpy old cranks like me, then by all means stay at home and grope away as you please or until the Viagra runs out.

The movie (once you scare away any local gropers) is about the search for a mole in British MI-6 by George Smiley, a recently retired deputy director. The retired spy finds himself being asked by run-of-the-mill cowardly, sleazebag politicians to ferret out a possible mole without rocking any political boats. In a better world, the politicians would pretend for a moment that they were not slimy worms, and they would order a full and immediate investigation without concern for political fallout. Poor George Smiley lives in our world so he knows that probably won’t happen, and he agrees to take on the thankless task.

If you pay attention in this part of the movie, you will catch a brilliantly played split second when Smiley considers giving in to his emotions and throwing the politician from the high spot that they occupy at the meeting. You can read his mind and sympathize with him. From your seat in the theater, you’ll be wanting to smack these supercilious bastards.

Even though Smiley knows that he can more easily get the job done without them wasting more of the world’s oxygen supply, he relies on his well-honed self discipline, ignores their insults, and gets on with the task at hand. Which is as it should be because if we all give in to our darkest instincts, our world will soon look like Iraq does this week, and the whole reason for having an MI-6 is to keep that from happening. So future spooks who are reading this, remember . . . leave seemingly urgent questions of justice to God and the voters and concentrate on your work.

Smiley is handicapped by a lack of resources and by the need to keep his investigation quiet, but he and his capable assistants rely on their collective experience and sharp minds to get things done. Smiley uses every spook’s most important weapon to crack the case. His brain.

The movie was well cast, well acted, and well directed. The director skillfully used the dreary scenery and the music to portray the dread and depression that a George Smiley would feel in his circumstances. He has to contend with feelings of betrayal and trepidation at what a mole might mean for him and for his country without letting it all overwhelm him and render him useless. He has to ignore personal feelings and likes and dislikes to peer at a smoke-filled reality through multiple warped lenses to glimpse the truth.

The movie clearly and realistically portrays that dynamic, and the viewer can easily imagine himself in the same situation and can ask himself how he/she would deal with the same. Who do you have that can help? Who would you call first? Who would you avoid? How will you get to the files that you want without alarming anyone? Who can you trust?

As long as we remember what audience this movie is for, I can’t see any reason to offer any criticisms of this film. The plot holes were so minute as to make them meaningless. Don’t even look for them. Just enjoy the movie completely.

This movie won’t change your life unless it scares you off from seeking a job in intelligence, or you get arrested for overt public groping. But it will give you more insight into one aspect of the intelligence world and its complicated history. It’s a very good movie. Movies that can keep you awake without sex and explosions are rare so don’t miss this one. We give it a .44 magnum rating** and we’ll actually pay to go watch this movie again.

Have you read this book or seen this movie? Will you go to a movie without explosions?

*Piper’s Note: Someone pleeeeeease ask Holmes what constitutes “politely asking.”

**Our Movie Rating System:

  • Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.
  • .22 rim fire:  Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.
  • .380: Go to the matinée if someone else is paying.
  • .38 special: Worth paying for the matinée yourself.
  • .357 magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.
  • .44 magnum: Must see this. Potentially life-altering event.

36 comments on “Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

  1. Dana Britt says:

    *Piper’s Note: Someone pleeeeeease ask Holmes what constitutes “politely asking.”

    Consider it done–do tell, Holmes!?

    Great post, both of you. I had dismissed this movie but now I’m intrigued.


    • Piper Bayard says:

      Yea! Thanks for asking, Dana. I’m looking forward to seeing his answer in print.

      It’s an excellent whodunnit if you like cerebral movies. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Honestly, given the circumstances i was more than reasonable. All I said (without yelling) was “Are you retired TSA employees? Do you need me to take you to the homeless shelter?” She pulled her pants back up from her hips, they buttoned up and went to the farthest corner of the theater.

      I am not a prude at all. If they had been on a park bench on a dark night I would simply have re-navigated my jog. If they had been in a parked car in a dark area I would have quietly moved away once I detected them. A sand dune behind a beach in southern France? Well it’s my own fault that I’m in France not their fault so I will just quietly leave.

      The theater was not fair game because we all paid to be there to see the movie without hearing some woman with an obnoxious accent making noise. If one of my nieces had been sitting next to me I would have been a bit more angry.

      Privacy is one of worlds great luxuries. Enjoy it fully.

  2. Piper, wait I’m confused. So were you mad that you were not the subject of the groping? Because next time we are at the movies, I will totally make a move. I just didn’t sense interest after you threw your popcorn at the people next to us engaged in full coitus. Please be more clear in the future. 😉

    Sounds like a good flick.

    FYI: The movie theatre is for groupers. Everyone else just streams Netflix.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Lol. That was Holmes with the groping. Now, if I were at the movie with Colin Firth . . . I still wouldn’t be groping because I’m married, and not to Colin Firth.

      Your comment about Netflix makes me think of the irony in all of the married couples who stay home alone and watch a movie while others go to the movie to grope. Thanks for stopping by.

      • blackwatertown says:

        Great post. I had to concentrate on the groping to avoid film spoilers cos I haven’t seen this one yet and I intend to.
        Perhaps you should bring a torch and a whistle to the cinema to send off groping offenders – yellow card for first base, red card and dismissal for whatever comes next.

    • Jay Holmes says:

      I think you will like this movie. If you bring your sweeetheart please remember that there are cranky old people llike me around and choose a remote seat.

  3. Gene Lempp says:

    Love psychological thrillers, add spies and this is better than chocolate for the mind. Definitely a grope free experience, although maybe a bit of petting.

    So, Holmes, what constitutes “politely asking” and was there a Vulcan nerve pinch involved?

    Great review 🙂

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I think the optimum is a spy with chocolate. 🙂

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Gene. Fortunately I didn’t have to get involved in any touching.

      “Honestly, given the circumstances i was more than reasonable. All I said (without yelling) was “Are you retired TSA employees? Do you need me to take you to the homeless shelter?” She pulled her pants back up from her hips, they buttoned up and went to the ffarthest corner of the theater.”

  4. EllieAnn says:

    Great review! I can’t wait to watch this movie now. Definitely like movies that involve actual brain activity!
    And as far as groping goes, you say to practice it for a while at home before you graduate to public groping? How do you know when you’re ready? Is it when grumpy men stop giving you chilling stares? 😉

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Ellie. Yes I think that based on how you write you will enjoy this film.

      “How do you know when you’re ready?” Part of ready is time and place so if old men can see you at alll it’s not the time and place.

      Now don’t get me wrong. It warms my cranky old heart to see young couples (or even very old ones) holding hands in the park, kissing and hugging, gazing stary eyed at each other etc. It’s just that some parts of the “stary eyed” process are best done in private and without bothering me in the theater.

  5. This sounds like my kind of movie. Drama, thinking. It’s not a movie if I don’t get confused. But I have one important question: is it okay if I imagine being groped by Colin Firth?

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Leanne. yes it’s normal to imagine those sorts of things. It’s even OK to ask hubby to play the part for you as long as you realize that he may make a similar request and as long as the twins are safely tucked away.

      I knew it was time to remove my oldest son’s crib from our bed room when he interupted us with laughter.

      With all thhat said, that Firth fellow isn’t good enough for you.

  6. CMrok93 says:

    With so much information being thrown at us, I wish that there was much more time for all of it to just sink in but I liked the fact that the film made you pay attention to every little detail as this story just kept building and building. Everybody here in this cast is great too, especially Oldman who perfectly brings this flick together. Good review. Check out mine when you get the chance.

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi CMrok, I did check out your review. You did a great job. I think that your page has server problems at the moment. i was unable to leave a comment.

      Thanks for coming by.

  7. Catie Rhodes says:

    Thanks for the detailed review of the movie. We’re going to see this as soon as it’s available for rent. It’s not the groping that keeps me away from the movie house…it’s the smell of the movie house. Achoo!

    I think my husband would really enjoy this movie, and I’d like to see what a realistic spook movie looks like.

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Catie. I think you will enjoy this. I thought it was very realistic for the 70’s. I felt a need to stay calm and alert when one of the characters arrived in Eastern Europe.

  8. Hmmm, curiouser and curiouser. I’ve not heard of this movie, but it sound fascinating. I don’t need sex and explosions to lure me into the theater, I like a movie that will engage my mind. Thanks for the great review. My daughter wants to work in intelligence, I’ll have to see this with her. She’d make an awesome spy.

  9. Ok, I’m sold! I really want to see this now. I’ve had enough explosion/action/no-plot-to-speak-of movies to last me for a while…:)

  10. Melissa says:

    This is possibly one of the greatest movie reviews of all time.
    I am scared to ask about the gropers.

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Melissa. Thanks for the compliment.

      There was an old couple in the theater sitting directly in front of me and they began to engage in advanced groping activities.

  11. tomwisk says:

    Read the book a while ago. I’ll probably see the movie as Gary Oldman has been a favorite of mine. He has the nondescript look of the operative in the system. He’s a tired man, with enough going on in his personal life, but he’s the best man for the job. Read the book after seeing the Ipcriss File. Another worthy flick. Good review, too bad it can’t be posted at the box office to keep the gropers and assorted oafs who don’t just leave when a movie doesn’t suit them.

  12. tomwisk says:

    Politely asking is a gentle tap on the shoulder with a sawed-off Louisville Slugger. And apologizing when you’re through asking.

  13. Hi Piper, Holmes.

    I read your review with some trepidation as I’ve been wanting to see this movie since the trailers came out. I found Le Carre’s books a bit of struggle (and I can already hear you asking if it was because of the big words and joined up handwriting!). But really I think I’m always “in the mood for wild chase scenes, lots of beautiful, naked women, and running gun fights.” (yes I edited out handsome hunks).

    So, why do I want to see the film? Atmosphere. I’m a sucker for cold, rain and fog – it reminds me of what I’ve escaped!


  14. Sounds like a good film. 🙂 But now after reading this, every time I see an old couple in a theater I’m going to have unpleasant thoughts about them possibly groping each other…right? *shudders*

    • J Holmes says:

      Hi Angela. What you are describing is PTSD. My guess is that your case is in the mild range. The best therapy is to grab your significant other, isolate yourselves from the outside world for three days and perform therapy together. No cell phones, internet, TV, or video games allowed. Let your mother know in advance that you will be unavailable so that she doesn’t turn in a missing person report.

      Here is an exercise that you can do until you can arrange the proper therapy. Go to the library today. Look at old couples. They must both look old and cranky. My wife and i wouldn’t count because she is younger than I am and is not cranky at all. Each time you recognize a suitable couple look at them discreetly and in your mind superimpose an image of Mr and Mrs Daffy Duck. This should reduce the anxiety attacks that old couples are inducing in you. Do NOT use this technique on your parents or grand parents. It could be very dangerous. If your dad says “Aunt Mable died!” and you start laughing someone’s PTSD will get worse.

  15. […] & Holmes brings us a fun review of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Can’t wait to see this […]

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