Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: I CAN EXPLAIN IT TO YOU

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Did you see it? Did you understand what happened? Don’t feel bad if you didn’t: Malcolm Gladwell who’s a pretty damn smart man said of LeCarre’s “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” that he’d read the book once every five years since he was sixteen, and only started figuring out what was happening on the third or fourth read. LeCarre doesn’t provide a road map for his readers, he sort of shoves them off a cliff and hopes they can keep up.


The thing about working in a movie theater (hereafter referred to as “the Cinecave” – because it’s a cinema that’s underground. Literally. It’s an underground cinema, hence, it’s “cinema” + “cave.” It’s very clever, but only because I didn’t come up with it) is that you get to go see movies for free.

The other thing about working in the Cinecave is that you really don’t want to go to see movies there, for free or otherwise. It’s not because it’s not a nice theater. It’s not because it doesn’t play good movies. It’s because for the love of holy Jesus Mary and Joseph I already spend a lot of time there and I don’t care to spend my non-working hours at work, even if I’m enjoying myself.

But sometimes I do go there on my non-work hours, because there are films that I am so dammed excited to see.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of those films, and I wrote about going to the after hours staff screening of it roughly two weeks ago. Actually, two weeks ago exactly, now that I realize today is Thursday. I’ve been having a hard time keeping track of which day is which this week.

I went to see the movie again today, for a couple of reasons. First, because I was seeing it so late the last time, I drifted asleep in a few parts. Second, I’m reading the George Smiley books — in order! — and wanted some Gary Oldman in the role. I’ve also started the BBC series with Alec Guinness as dear Mr. Smiley — I almost prefer him to Oldman.

I mean. Obi Wan > Sirius Black. Sorry, Harry.

So I caught the first show today (I took today & tomorrow off from my full time job). After, I was the last person out of the theater (it was the biggest auditorium and it was pretty full for a Thursday afternoon), and I was talking with one of my coworkers who’d seen it with her husband. “Okay,” she said to me, “Explain this movie to me, because I didn’t follow it.”

So as she cleaned the theater, I explained. And since I’ve had lots of people tell me as they exited the auditorium that they didn’t follow what had happened, I thought that my explanation to my coworker would make for a good blog post.

A Warning in Two Parts:

First, this reconstruction of the film’s plot is based on what I remember of seeing the film. I may at times misremember certain things, either due to my failing memory, or because I’m confusing it with events in the book, or the BBC adaptation. Also, the reconstruction will attempt to proceed on chronological order (the film frequently utilizes flashbacks).

Second, spoilers. Lot of ’em. You are entering a Spoiler Zone. Avoid Avoid Avoid!



November: Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) is sent to Bulgaria to evaluate a member of the Russian Trade Mission who might be vulnerable to being tapped as an asset. Tarr recognizes that this individual, Boris, is in fact, like himself, a “Scalphunter”: a spy who is responsible for dirty stuff – assassinations, kidnapping, beating people up, etc. Tarr’s about to head back to England when he witnesses Boris beating up his wife, Irina. Tarr has a hunch that Irina might be vulnerable to working for the British, but it turns out she’s actually an intelligence operative who tells him she knows the identity of a Russian-planted mole in the upper echelon of the Circus, the upper organization of the British Intelligence Services. She’s unwilling to reveal who this person is until she’s brought out West.

Tarr contacts the Circus with this information. Almost immediately, Russian operatives kill Boris, and Irina is beaten comatose and put on a Russian flagged freighter bound for Odessa. Additionally, the British station agent is murdered, with his death framed on Tarr. Tarr knows the mole in the Circus is onto him and goes AWOL to avoid being killed.

Later, Control (John Hurt) has become aware of the mole in the Circus. He has been suspicious for some time of a source developed under a program called “Witchcraft” run by one of his deputies, Percy Allenline (Toby Jones). This suspicion is verified when Control is contacted by a Hungarian General organized in Hungary’s Intelligence services who is willing to provide the name of the mole as a prelude to becoming a high level British source. Control sends a trusted agent, Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Budapest to meet with this general. Prideaux ignores his instructions “not to trust anyone” and reveals his mission to Bill Haydon (Colin Firth).

Prideaux has been instructed, as soon as he meets with the general, he is to communicate to Control one of five code words (based on a children’s rhyme) the identity of the mole. Tinker for Percy Alleline, Tailor for Bill Haydon, Soldier for Roy Bland, Poorman for Esterhase, and Beggarman for Smiley.

Prideaux gets to Budapest, but recognizes that he’s being set up. When he attempts to escape, he’s shot by a Hungarian agent. Although it’s been reported that he has died, he has in fact been nursed back to health, interrogated, and repatriated secretly to the United Kingdom, where he’s begun teaching under an assumed name at a boarding school. He’s also seen Irina shot in front of him, although he had no idea who she was.

But before we get to the point that Prideaux’s been nursed back to health, the Circus’s communication room is exploding with word of what’s happened in Hungary. An officer named Jerry Westerby (Stephen Graham) had been assigned by Control to monitor communications for word from Prideaux. When Westerby tells Control that Prideaux has been apparently killed, Control becomes distant. Westerby begins calling the deputy heads, starting with Smiley. However, Smiley’s wife Ann informs Westerby that Smiley is away in Germany. Ann, who is rather serially unfaithful, passes what Westerby’s told her to Bill Haydon (who is in bed with her), which explains why Haydon arrives at the Circus without Westerby contacting him.

(Interesting side note: “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is the first of the so-called “Karla Trilogy” which pit George Smiley against Russian spymaster Karla. The second book is “The Honourable Schoolboy”, and Jerry Westerby is the honourable schoolboy of the title).

As a result of this cock-up (Control had gone outside of all channels to keep the mission secret), Control is forced out. He also forces George Smiley (Gary Oldman) to step down with him. He knows Smiley is not the mole because Smiley was in Germany when the Prideaux operation happened. Additionally, he believes Smiley is the best person to identify the mole, and communicates this to Oliver Lacon, who oversees the intelligence services on a Parlimentary level.

Lacon (Simon McBurney) doesn’t believe Control, he feels Control was paranoid. He just files the information away. Meanwhile, Ricky Tarr has re-entered England. He contacts Lacon and tells him what happened in Bulgaria, and urges Lacon to investigate the matter through his supervisor, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch). Lacon enlists Guillam to bring Smiley to a meeting, where Lacon explains Control’s theory about a mole. Smiley agrees to identify and bring out the mole, and enlists Guillam for his dirty work.

Smiley learns more about Witchcraft, which is the program Alleline (who is now head of the Circus) has been running. Witchcraft is designed to protect a British source code named “Merlin” who is passing intelligence to the British. Merlin is a top placed source in Russian intelligence. To communicate with Merlin, the Circus has established a safe house in London. The existence of Merlin is restricted to Alleline, Bland, Esterhase, and Haydon, who provide him mostly junk intelligence, with the occasional beefy report, to keep Merlin’s supervisors in Moscow convinced he’s still on their side.

In reality, the information Merlin is feeding the British is mostly junk, with the occasional beefy report. Meanwhile, high level intelligence is being passed to Merlin by the mole, with Merlin transmitting that information to Moscow.

Paranoid that Control and Smiley were trying to take control of Witchcraft before their dismissal, Alleline and Esterhase became very protective of their source and dismissed members of the intelligence services who got too close to his identity, such as the case with researcher Connie Sachs (who later tells Smiley that she is decidedly “underfucked”). Sachs is aware that the Russian cultural attache Polyokov acts as the funnel of information to and from Merlin, but believes Polyokov is in reality a member of the Soviet military, after finding footage of uniformed officers saluting him while he is in civilian clothes. She tells Alleline she suspects Polyokov is a Karla operative, and is dismissed from the service. Esterhase pays a sum of money to Prideaux after his relocation and tells him to “forget Tinker Tailor”, but believes Tinker Tailor was a scheme of Control’s to identify Merlin.

Tarr makes contact with Smiley and explains what happened in Bulgaria. To verify his story, Guillam is told to steal the duty officer’s communication log from the Circus. Guillam is able to accomplish this with some help from Medley (first introduced in LeCarre’s first novel, “Call for the Dead”). Guillam thinks he’s been caught when Esterhas calls him to a meeting with Alleline, Blunt, and Haydon, who warn him that Tarr has been turned.

Arriving at Smiley’s, Guillam is surprised to see Tarr, who he hasn’t seen since before Bulgaria. Guillam believes Tarr is a traitor until Smiley asks Tarr if he knows precisely what day he contacted the Circus about Irina’s information on the mole. Tarr answers that he knows the day: November 20th. Smiley shows Guillam the log book, where the page for November 20th has been carefully removed. Tarr is telling the truth.

Smiley sends Tarr to Paris to force the mole’s hand. Tarr is willing to do this, but wants Smiley to do everything he can to have Irina brought to England. Smiley has already determined Prideaux is alive and debriefed him and is convinced Irinia is dead, but does not tell Tarr. Smiley is able to force the location of the safe house from Esterhase.

In Paris, Tarr barges into the British Intelligence Office with a gun, and instructs them to send a message to the Circus, repeating his message from Bulgaria. The four top men of the Circus are called in to headquarters, but it’s Bill Haydon who goes to the safe house, with a message to Karla to have Tarr eliminated, where he’s captured by Smiley & Guillam and admits to being the Soviet mole.

Haydon admits to Smiley that he seduced Ann on Karla’s orders. Karla was afraid that Control was onto Haydon, but didn’t know how close he was. By seducing Ann, Smiley wouldn’t be able to trust his feelings on Haydon, and any accusation might appear as sour grapes. Haydon is going to be deported to Russia, but is shot and killed by Jim Purdeaux, who were close friends in the past.

Alleline is dismissed from the Circus, and George Smiley is made the new head of the Circus.

******MOVIE ENDS*****

Y’know, I don’t know if that was any less confusing than the movie was. Well, that’s what the comment section is for.

233 thoughts on “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: I CAN EXPLAIN IT TO YOU

  1. I think that it was Smiley who gave Prideaux the order to kill Haydon. Prideaux who is not even MI6 employee shows up in the highly secure area with a sniper rifle which he is not event trying to hide. He knows where Haydon is and when most likely he is going to be outside – Prideaux did not camp outside with his sniper rifle for hours.
    Smiley has no desire to exchange someone who was at the top of the circus for a few low level agents, not to mention his personal reasons.

  2. @Ruff It’s been several months since you asked this, so I don’t know if you will see this post, but in case you do, you asked: “…couldn’t Alfredson thrown us, the audience, a subtle visual clue to decipher when we were being shown scenes from the past?”

    In the beginning of the movie, Smiley goes to get his eyes checked and comes out of the exam with new black-framed glasses, replacing his old tortoiseshell frames. In all of the flashbacks he is wearing the tortoiseshell frames, which distinguishes the Smiley of the past from the Smiley of the present. Really subtle, I know, and I only noticed because I kept asking myself “why did they feel the need to show him getting an eye exam and buying new glasses in the middle of this otherwise plot-heavy movie?” until I figured it out.

  3. What Christmas party are the agents attending where Smiley’s wife cheats on him?
    Is this the Russian embassy? They all are speaking and singing in Russian and the British agents are fluent.

  4. BLove:

    It’s the British Intelligence Christmas party: who else are they spying on besides the Soviet Union? And of course a spy service is going to look to recruit people who are fluent in the language of the people they’re spying on.

  5. I think there are a couple of things to consider.

    Someone commented that Smiley is Karla. That’s exactly what I thought. The triumphant smile at the end reveals all. Karla doesn’t care that his wife is being shagged by Haydon, because it’s all part of the ruse. Karla’s goal is not to have a mole, it’s to take the same role in circus. What better way to have a mole like Haydon, then be the one who flushes him out? A spy like Smiley would, of course, remember what Karla looks like, yet he claims not to. He was not in Germany at the beginning of the movie, he was there for the shooting.

    Also, there are other parts of the story that make more sense if you consider this.

    As for shooting Haydon at the end of the film, if it is Smiley/Karla who ordered it, it also makes sense. Smiley, relying on the past between the two, puts the shooter up to the job, and Karla is rid of Haydon, since Russia doesn’t want him either.

    Have fun…


  6. Hi, I have a question. When all Circus men showed up at the headquarters but Hayden (who went to the safe house), wouldn’t it be obvious to the rest of the men who the mole is?

  7. Deej –

    It’s an interesting theory, but Smiley & Karla are two distinct people. They do have many traits in common, as is would not be surprising as they both are at the top of their intelligence aparatus. (Smiley not so much at “top” until the end, of course). Also, if Smiley was Karla, why would he unveil his own spy instead of framing someone else?

    Canol –

    Half right. Everyone went to HQ, but *then* Hayden went to the safe house, proving he was the spy.

  8. In the TV series aired originally in UK, they show the meeting with Karla and Smiley when Karla is being interviewed in prison by Smiley. That is when Smiley offers him some cigarettes and in the end, Karla steals Smiley’s lighter.

  9. Snay,

    Just to further play devil’s advocate – whats the harm in revealing a spy ie Karla when you are Karla, Karla only controls things, doesn’t interact with outsiders, and you say you don’t know what Karla looks like? If you can keep up the ruse, Karla never gets caught, and the people you do catch close to Karla don’t know enought to ever lead you to this person…

    I remain sceptical that Smiley is not Karla…


  10. Thanks for the great debrief! Like everyone else, I too an very confused- especially at the end. At the Christmas party where Haydon and Prideaux exchange that long look- like two old friends and as some have suggested-lovers. Was Prideaux greatful that Haydon got him home or was he even aware of haydon’s role at that time? How much time elapsed between that scene and the scene where Prideaux shoots Haydon? Also, where was Haydon killed- it looked fenced in? Also, it appeared as if Haydon was waiting for Prideaux to shoot him as he appeared to almost be actually looking at him when he was shot.

  11. Correct me if I’m wrong, but considering the rest of the film with its obscure clues, I thought the moment Smiley realizes who the mole is almost an enigma.

    Smiley is sitting alone, the camera closing on him, they flash through pictures of the suspects, the railroad switch light goes from green to red, they close on Smiley some more then show the railroad switch making connection with a bang.

    Excellent analysis MalSnay, you are definitely on my favorites list..

  12. Excellent article. Just watched it for a second time and that really clears most of it up. Thanks.

    As for Jim shooting Bill at the end, its not clear at all hence all these theories. It does appear that Bill gives a kind of nod just before he gets shot. Maybe they were working together and had pre-planned to kill one if he got caught on account of not wanting to be deported/tortured?? Or maybe not.

  13. The only plot hole for me is the following:

    – Why did Jim reveal to Hayden and tell him that the object of the Budapest mission was really to expose the mole? In the final conversation between Hayden and Smiley, it’s apparently because “deep down, Jim knew it was Hayden all along”. This does not make sense to me.

  14. This is a great summary, thanks. I arrived here to help recollect why Tarr went to Paris–the movie plays with the timeline in a way that confuses the issue.

    To the above commenter who thinks Karla and Smiley are the same person: though the notion is flatly preposterous, it might help to realize that Karla is depicted a few times in the movie, most notably just when Jim Prideaux is shot, the camera pulls in to a tight shot of Smiley’s lighter and a seated headless figure. Smiley was in Berllin during this incident.

  15. I suspect the relationship between P and the Mole were even more involved than just being friend. I think they were lovers.

  16. replying to Doug , implying that ‘he knew all along” was the first hint that there was something significant between P. and the mole. I believe he loved the mole. So he pledged his life to protecting his identiy.

  17. Prideaux shooting Hayden – that is to save Hayden from a certain painful death in Russia. Prideaux and Hayden are obviously also lovers (at least were), which the scene at the Christmas party reveals, and Hayden leaves two messages via Smiley in the end. One for a girl, one for a boy. The boy would be Prideaux, who saves his old lover. Hence the nod from Hayden, and the tears in Prideaux’s eyes after the shot.

  18. Thank you for this analysis! It has a cast full of great actors, and is done well. I do think that they could have changed the story a little to make it fit the time-limited nature of a film instead of running through everything quickly to “cover it all”. But it was great once you can see what was going on. A second viewing would probably be a good idea.
    Good night.

  19. One thing that I’d like cleared up is after Smiley and Guillam suspect that the mole is on to Guillam (“You’re watched now”), Smiley tells him to get his affairs in order. Guillam meets some man, apparently says goodbye, then starts weeping. Who is the man that Guillam meets? What’s the relationship? Others have suggested that Jim and the mole were lovers. Was this Guillam’s lover? I’m a little confused as to the importance of this portion of the movie.

  20. I don’t feel so bad about some of my confusion while watching this movie. I grew up with this book in my parents home. I never did read it. Surely I attempted to but understand now why I most likely out it down. I was young.
    I missed a few scenes in the film which didn’t help. In all, I understood the jist of it.
    As far as the mole goes and the sharing of information between the two countries, were Russia’s motives mostly to suck information out of the U.K concerning secrets if the U.S.A?
    Obviously this was a popular book. I’ve grown repulsed by the title recently with the coming of the movie and the popularity of it in the news. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It’s a mouthful.
    I haven’t made my mind up about what all the fuss is about. Surely I enjoyed the film. The acting was grand all around. It succeeded as a piece if cinema art. The movie had a quality of reaching into the the past genre. If I didn’t recognize the actors I would have believed the film was made years ago. Yes I enjoyed it. It was well done and succeeded.
    Who was the beekeeper? I enjoyed the scene with the bee buzzing in the car and being

  21. The bee was being shooed away and eventually set free from the car.
    Any symbolism there of being “bugged”, spied on and even threatened? Only to be sent on its way. Set free to share its experience with its hive? Did anyone notice a bee in any other scene? I believe I did.

  22. i liked the movie, great acting.
    i have a question about 2 things:
    when smiley catches hayden in the end and Peter enters the room, there was a man standing and speaking russian, then he simply left the room.who is he?

    was esterhase a traitor too?

  23. I read the book some 30 years ago for a class I took, believe it or not for Business Management at Northwestern in Evanston, IL, and, I seem to recall that Prideaux in the book does not shoot Haydon. Instead, I think he breaks his neck. I was also trying to recall, from the book, how Tarr reacted to Irina’s death when, or if, he ever discovered that she had been killed by the Russians. Does anyone recall? I would appreciate knowing that. Thanks.

  24. Late comer to these discussions, as just watched the movie. Fascinating observation about the glasses and the flashbacks. Very well done!

    Is there a metaphoric or parallel meaning to the “Tinker… Spy” words?

    The Smiley is Karla is fascinating.

    Thoroughly enjoyed all of your comments – especially the synopsis that generated all of this dialog.

  25. There is one important driving element that is left out here, other than touching on it in the discussion of the affair between Ann (Smiley’s wife) and Haydon; that element is SEX, heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual. It’s important to note that Haydon is bisexual: He was having an affair with Ann, Smiey’s wife, but he also loved Prideaux; that is NOT a look of “friendship,” but rather of love, exchanged between the two at the Christmas party, and I believe it is also the reason Haydon sneaked the photo of himself and Prideaux into his jacket pocket (a photo showing the two of them with their arms around one another’s shoulders) that he picked up in Prideaux’s apartment after receiving word of Prideaux having been shot, and insisting that Westerby accompany him (Haydon) to Prideaux’s apartment to clean up any loose ends. I believe it is also one of the reasons that Prideaux shot Haydon once Haydon was discovered to be the mole: Prideaux felt betayed, not only in his agency role, but as Haydon’s lover as well, and wanted to make sure that he silenced Haydon on all counts. More proof of Haydon’s bisexuality is evident when he is visited by Smiley after being discovered as the mole and being taken into custody: He asks Smiley to help him with “some housekeeping,” and indicates two envelopes of money that Smiley is to take with him, one for “a girl,” for whom Haydon asks Smiley to “cook up a story: Tell her I loved her, if it will help.” The other envelope, Haydon tells Smiley, is “for a boy.” Smiley agrees to help him “if he can.” Peter Guillam is also gay: After he helps Smiley by taking the logbook out of headquarters and then going to meet up with Smiley (where he first sees that Ricky Tarr is back (and they get into a short physical tussle) and where they discuss that Tarr is, in fact, telling the truth about not killing the Bulgarian agent, Smiley tells Peter that he needs to clean up any unnecessary messes regarding his own personal life, speculating that everyone at the Circus will soon be under close government scrutiny. In a scene that follows shortly, Peter is sitting in his own apartment, watching as his male lover is packing up his clothes and is asking Peter why he’s being asked to leave, inquiring of Peter if it is “because of another man?”, while tears are running down Peter’s cheeks. It’s also interesting to note that the new girl working at headquarters, “Belinda the blonde,” shows an interest in Peter, asking him what he’s doing for the coming weekend; Peter, on the other hand, has no interest in her at all, stating that he’s spending the time “with aunts, you know.” If anyone reading this is inclined to “pooh-pooh” my comments here, I would encourage you to re-watch the movie, paying attention to what I have pointed out here, and I believe you will come to agree with me. I have not read the novel yet, so I don’t know if these elements of the various characters’ sexuality are mentioned there or not, but they are definitely present in the film and are, I believe, an important part of both plot and character development.

  26. Hey everybody – sorry for the long approval times & slow responses. Had a lot going on, but one of my resolutions is to be more attentive to this blog. Answers coming shortly.

  27. Sulkhat – You’re absolutely correct! In the novels (Guillam appears in several), however, Guillam is a noted womanizer.

    Tom – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a play on an old British nursery rhyme: tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. Control uses this rhyme to name the people he suspects are traitors – when Prideaux figures out who it is, he only has to message back the corresponding word. Control doesn’t use “sailor” because it rhymes with “tailor,” and he drops “rich man.”

    Rewod – Glad it was helpful!

    Chris – It was Smiley’s lighter, a gift from his unfaithful wife, Anne. When Smiley met Karla in an attempt to persuade him to defect, Karla stole the lighter.

    Al – You’re correct. After Bill’s been caught, Prideaux, who has been tailing Smiley or Guillam (or both) slips a letter to Bill via his dry cleaning, and Bill meets him in a park. I don’t think Tarr is ever told – on page – what has happened to Irina.

    your best friend – he’s Haydon’s handler, and a member of the Soviet embassy with diplomatic immunity. It’s implied that because Haydon’s been caught, he is sent home to Russia and punished. Yes, there was a flying insect in the car scene – it may have been a bee.

    Mark – I noticed it too. It might have been a fly. The only thing I took from it is that while some will try to swat it (as Guillam does), Smiley observes and then acts when he can catch it.

    Haydon didn’t like how the US was trampling over the British – his motivation was to gain access to US secrets and share them with the Soviets.

    The Beekeeper (I think his name is Mendel) is a former Circus operative/or a former police officer who Smiley brings in to help (I can’t recall which) – he’s got experience, but because he’s retired, no one’s going to notice that he’s not at his desk. In the books I believe he first appeared in “Call for the Dead.”

    Anixiartz – That’s Guillam’s boyfriend.

    josephj – I think I saw it four times in theaters …

    Kroko – No, that’s not why Prideaux shot Haydon. Haydon was almost certainly in no danger of being murdered by the Soviet government. As real life shows, when their actual double-agents in the West were caught and sent over, they were actually, to an extent, provided for.

    livelovelaf – Yep! And then Haydon sent his buddy to what should’ve been his death ..

    doug: because Prideaux’s love for Haydon surpassed his own sense of self preservation

    Dax: I think if anything it means he sees Prideaux, knows he sent Prideaux off to die, and now his number’s up. If they’d been working together, the Soviets wouldn’t have tortured Prideaux (or have had to shoot him).

    Joe: Yep! I think you’re right – the bang of the train tracks & Smiley knows who it is. Then he’s just gotta prove it.

    Dale – actually, I believe the Christmas Party is set before Prideaux gets sent to Hungary.

  28. Thank you for answering the question. One more that has bothered me is:
    At the end, when Smiley smugly assumes the lead of the circus, he appears to be malevolent.
    Has Smiley just playing the system to achieve power?
    Is he truly the most wicked of the bunch?
    LeCarre was a notorious pinko, what was his aim in this novel?

  29. I really have no idea why Prideaux shot Hayden. I assume the reason has something to do with the owl incident. Symbolically, I mean.

    Some reviewers and users have interpreted the assassination as revenge for Hayden having “betrayed” Prideaux. For me, that makes no sense for two reasons: 1)Why would Hayden leave Prideaux to his death, let him get tortured, and then fight to get him back? 2) Prideaux knew, even if he couldn’t confirm it yet, that Hayden was the mole BEFORE Smiley visited him. So Prideaux probably realized quickly that it was Hayden who told Karla that he would be coming to Budapest, thus letting Karla set it up as a trap. Plus, since Prideaux had only told Hayden of his mission, Prideaux could now confirm that Hayden was the mole. If so, why did Prideaux wait so long to exact his revenge?

    The plausibility of this situation depends on whether the Hungarian mission was a trap from the start or whether Hayden’s knowledge of it sabotaged the whole operation. If the former is true, then Prideaux would not have killed Hayden out of revenge.

  30. I think that he shot him out of love, as I believe that they were lovers. He knew that they were about to torture him and it was to keep that from happening to him. Evidence: A tear coming down his cheek; e.g. not likely with revenge. What do you think?

  31. Truly a great movie with superb acting by many.

    As for prideaux,,, i think it was a screw up that he got shot in Hungary. The
    waiter clearly lost his nerve…. as Karla watched.

    As for Prideaux shooting haydon at the end., I think it would have had to be sanctioned by Smiley . otherwise it would be high treason and would have jeopardized the agents that they would have traded for. However, I think Smiley wanted Haydon dead to limit the ability for Russians gain any future knowledge or leverage re: Circus.

  32. I believe George is correct. Prideaux was approached by Smiley with a proposition to get back into the “fold”: assassinate Haydon
    He’s obviously conflicted, hence the tears. He has to assassinate his lover to get his life back on track. Between a rock and a hard place. As you might remember, he was drinking when the school boy came visiting, very upset. Then you have the assassination. Makes perfect sense.

  33. It’s just that, if deported to the Soviet Union, he would probably be treated pretty fairly, so it doesn’t seem likely that the Soviets would torture him. Hayden’s conversation with Smiley revealed no indication that the Brits would torture him (at least in the future, since maybe they already had).

    However, the idea that Prideaux killed him out of love is possible. I read somewhere that Bill Hayden was supposed to represent upper-class hypocrisy, selfishness or betrayal or something like that (emphasized by the fact that Bill Roach seemed to go to an upper-class school). Now, Hayden’s reputation is completely tarnished. His position unredeemable. In his last conversation with Smiley, Hayden does seem to be ashamed. His comment about there being no cricket in the USSR could be seen as an indication that he has lost his accustomed living standard forever, especially now that he will be leaving for a communist country where he might be treated fairly, but not as he was used to socially, politically, and economically.

    I think Hayden either asked Prideaux to kill him in such a situation or Prideaux knew that Hayden could not face such a situation. Both could effectively parallel the owl incident. I should mention that I see Hayden as lacking enough character to fit this profile.

    Then again, it Smiley weren’t involved then Prideaux would neither have entered nor left the prison complex (or whatever it was). Therefore, despite my own long explanation of the “love” theory, I think George is correct. Smiley’s smile at the end could be another indication of this.

    If you can’t tell, I still haven’t completely made up my mind.

  34. OMG – You people need to watch more movies.
    1. The way Mark Strong lovingly looks at Colin Firth during that Christmas party leaves no doubt there was more than a friendship. Out of love, Strong’s character warns Firth of the purpose of his Budapest mission prior to leaving , knowing that Firth is indeed the mole. Firth sacrifies Strong for the Soviet cause.
    Apparently in the book, both are acquainted at Oxford (where Firth is recruited by the Soviets during the leftist period in England) and become very close,
    possibly the start of their relationship. It is Firth who brings Strong into the Circus.
    2. In the end scenes, Strong takes revenge for the obvious betrayal of not only his country, but more so his love. I agree with the comment that Firth actually sees Strong prior to being shot – and accepts his fate.
    3. Since the writer wrote a trilogy of books with Karla and Smiley as adversaries, the idea of Karla and Smiley being one is also wrong.
    After the scene where Peter and Smiley realize Tarr is telling the truth, follow the conversation between Smiley and Peter. Smiley tells Peter of his first and only meeting with Karla. He reveals that there is little difference between the two – just that they are working for different sides.
    4. Peter is definite either bi and/or homosexual.

    Much of the movie plays out with an understanding that the audience already knows much of the background. It is only after watching the movie multiple times that most viewers can make any sense of multiple betrayals, underlying relationships and constant flashbacks through time.

    In the end,
    1. Strong’s characters hints as feeling redeemed and can move on – post shooting.
    2. Smiley gets the job and the girl.
    3. My only disappointment, was the Ricki Tarr character’s ending.
    I was left wondering what happened to him post his obvious betrayal by Smiley and the Circus.

    Great Exchange !

  35. also there is another thing .. ricky tarr telin smiley and peter i certainly dont want to end up like you ……. tarr wants to end his career.. peter is bisexual and kept it as a secret to avoid blackmailing ..
    there are some other things you missed especially roy bland…. he knew peter . he might have sung deliberately… also hayden was a role model and a good friend of peter . thats why it was him who got angry and hit haydon not smiley….

    about the specs the way haydon wear specs is also different … i dont know the symbolic meaning of these…

  36. you can also see some sympathy for both the field agents… the sad looks on the faces of jim prideaux in the class room and tarr in paris waiting for irina .. certainly these field agents live a very bad life and like bond says everyone is not cut out for this

  37. Awesome film. Did not pick-up most its intricate information until the 3rd viewing. Very solid acting with so many interesting characters. It kinda reminded me of PBS TV shows I watched, before cable in the mid-late 70’s when I was growing up. Not by choice, but because there was nothing else to watch. There is such a bland hue in the scenes, that make the viewer zero in on the character’s mannerisms/actions.

  38. Much to my wifes dismay….I have watched Tinker-Tailor approximately 5 times…so far….and learn something new each time……..Im curious if anyone knows the Model of the Zippo Lighter that Smiley originally had….and Karla winds up with……I would love to obtain one….and have the inscription put on the side…..exactly…as in the movie…..it would be piece off trivia that would mean nothing to anyone around me…..but I would enjoy immensely having a “keepsake” so to speak …of the movie……so now Im looking to find the Model # of the Zippo Lighter used……and to copy the inscription…….TO GEORGE……ALL MY LOVE…….ANN………..What a keepsake…!1..if anyone has any idea…please email me……by the way…I just discovered this forum tonite…13 March 2012……..I appreciate anyone taking the time to answer…….Best Regards……Hans Fischer

  39. i am pretty certain that the lighter is not zippo. You probably
    can find something but expect to pay a price. antique silver lighter…
    maybe Evans brand or some old English brand,,,, certainly not an american zippo

  40. I do not recall in movie Prideaux telling haydon about his mission to Budapest??

  41. Two things I need help with on the movie – at what point do we learn Jim Prideaux has told Hayden he is going to Germany? Also, why did the Russians kill Tufty and Boris? (I can understand why they killed Irina)

  42. …..After many many nites of research….sending countless emails……I finally nailed it down….firstly…it dawned on me that “Smiley”…being a British Agent….would not have carried a Zippo ….and more than likely would have carried a Dunhill….(just my guess)…but after looking at dozens of photos……and comparing to the one shown in the movie…(which I took a closeup of off the television)..came down to its probably a DUNHILL ..UNIQUE LIGHTER…LIFT ARM..B MODELL (male size) and Single Wheel……….I had a number of responses to my emails…..one British Dealer….who was very nice….said he could supply me with the exact model in the movie…with engraving..for $550.00……and…that it was Impossible to find a Dunhill under $400.00…..!!…..somehow….cant remember….found a website on the internet.of a small antique shop up in Maine I believe…..he had approximately 5 of them….from an Estate sale………I found two that I liked……Exact copies of Smileys…..called him up and explained my unusually probably silly quest………..he said he would look an call me back………..very courteous……he went thru them….made sure that the one I wanted was in good condition….and did in fact work with no problems……$70.00 !!!…so its being shipped today…..now to get it engraved…locally if possible………but Thank you again for all your notes..its been a fun week of searching……..Best Always…..Joe Fischer

  43. JohnK,

    he gets sent to Hungary (Budapest) not Germany. Its basically a trap but in the movie its to uncover the identity of the mole for Control. He never actually tells Hayden he is going, Hayden finds out from Ann.

    Tufty was killed to frame Ricki, or make it look more plausible, either way, that Ricki had turned. Also Tufty knew that Ricki’s message was about Irina and a possibly a mole. ( I wonder if ricky made this whole thing up to save/have Irina??, killed Tufty to make it all look real, then being a bit dumb, lost her to the Russians who intercepted the message and grabbed her to see if there was really a mole, it doesn’t take much to confuse a Russian).

    Boris was killed by someone, possibly the Russians, possibly Ricki each with different motives. Probably because he was a poor agent who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants, or because he was not an agent at all but really a businessman being played by Irina as cover. In the end it had to look like he was someone. Alternatively he could have been anyone.

  44. I thought Ricki went to Turkey, not Bulgaria? I keep hearing Bulgaria here. Did I miss something?

    Whats up with Ann, why do we never see her? Its like she is the real spy, we only see her legs and her silhouette. The name of the actress who plays her is Katrina Vasilieva, a russian dancer…… makes me wonder whats going on here?

    She gives Smiley the lighter, she confirms Smiley’s alibi that he is in Germany ( or was he really in Budapest). She sets the whole thing up possibly? I am beginning to think it is possible that she is Karla…. a woman. Smiley seems to always be protecting her. Setting up Haydon would not be so difficult, using the sub plot of homosexuality to his advantage. Haydon even gives Smiley two notes at the end, one for Ann, the other for Jim to kill him. If Haydon was not a double agent, just pretending to be one as all were, then surely he would not want to go back to Russia. The assassination was a mercy kill.

    The note to Ann would have been interesting, surly by then he would have known who set him up…. her.

    Irina is a red herring. The way she smiles at Jim before being executed, its interesting.

    In fact all the women in this movie are interesting. They all seem to play men, meaning they exert control over them in.

    In the end, Smiley enters his home to find her back, he stumbles with anticipation, as if to say how happy he is she is alright, safe, not so much that she has returned to him in love, I think she never left him in love. Did he do all this for her and in the end he gets away with it…. hence the smug smile. Also the song at the end is very cool. La Mer.

    Never mind the BBC series, it was dumbed down for the British audiences. This movie was done very well and its very smart, nothing like the series.

    I’m watching again tonight with some unsuspecting friends, I would like to get a better read on the shooting of Jim, something is bothering me about that scene, there is a lot of information there. Also the bee in the car. And the scene with Connie.

  45. I’m hooked on this movie–I’ve watched it maybe 8 times. Each time I’ve noticed some clue that wasn’t obvious to me before. There’s one thing I haven’t been able to figure out: when things come together in Smiley’s mind (after his meeting with Jim Prideaux), when the train signals change color and the tracks shift, Smiley is listening to a tape. The remarks on the tape are repeated a number of times in the next few scenes–the voice says something along the lines of “the people on the second floor are laughing about the information…everything the Circus thinks is gold is sh_t.” Whose conversation is this, and where did Smiley get the tape?

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