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. thanks, yes I knew it was Budapest. But how did Ann know Jim Prideaux went to Budapest for the general? Smiley would not have known and if he did he would not have told Ann. Also, you write “intercepted the message”. How would the Russians do that if they did not know about the fake trade shop being a spt base.

    Regarding Boris, I agree “Boris was killed by …. the Russians. Probably because he was a poor agent who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants,”

  2. the tape that Smiley is listening to is the from Ricky Tarr in his original debrief with Smiley.

  3. Tarr was in Istanbul, not Bulgaria (when he met Irina and Boris).

    Did Bill ask Jim (secretly, not shown in the movie) to have him shot, so that he wouldnt be tortured by MI6 (even though he knew how they were going to interrogate him since it was him who taught them the interrogation methods at the first place)?

  4. I love the complexity of this movie. The viewer is treated like someone with a functioning brain, someone who might be able to piece things together the way a good spy has to–noticing everything, remembering everything that’s said and when, revealing nothing.

    Gary Oldman is perfect in the role of George Smiley. He relates to Peter Guillam his initial meeting with Karla, when he revealed too much about himself and even let the man keep the lighter which, years later, would be used to try to identify Smiley as the mole (Karla kept flashing the lighter at Jim Prideaux during Prideaux’s interrogation.) The trip to Hungary probably was a ruse to set this red herring into motion.

    Prideaux may have been asked to kill Bill Haydon, but he may also have done this on his own. He probably realized Haydon had used him from the beginning–had allowed Jim to be tortured–to cover the fact that Bill was the mole. Also, as a result of Jim’s capture, the Circus believed Jim had blown the cover of the Hungarian agents–Bill probably did this. Interesting to reflect on Prideaux’s comment to the boy at the school “I’ve known plenty of Bills in my life.” Jim was hurt and betrayed–I think he wanted to get even.

    Smiley is pleased at the end when all the efforts of his work are recognized and he assumes leadership of MI5. He outsmarted Karla using the same trick Karla had used–luring an agent to reveal what side he’s on.

    Ricky Tarr appears to be on the outside looking in. He wasn’t a good spy–his efforts to bring in a source by himself (Irina) resulted in her being captured and eventually killed. He wasn’t fit for the job, and he didn’t really want it.

    Time to read the books.

  5. I still think that Jim Prideaux killing of Haydon was directed by circus. (smiley)

    I think it is highly unlikely that Prideaux acted on his own. This would be an act of high treason in that they would have traded Haydon for captured British
    agents. it would be no mystery who shot Haydon .

    Likely., Circus never intended to send Haydon back because of the risk that circus procedures/policies/etc would be further compromised.

  6. Smiley told Jim Prideau that after the incident in Hungary when Prideau was captured, the agents in Hungary were “blown” and the story was that Jim had given them up to save his own life. I think this was Smiley’s way of motivating Jim to take action without telling him what he needed to do. It may have happened another way in the novel, but this is the way it appeared to me in the movie.

    One minor note: When Prideau is introducing himself to his class of students, what looks like an owl flies into the room shrieking before Jim smashes it to the ground. Later in the movie, we learn that when he was in custody he was forced to listen to constant shrieking through earphones.

  7. e.mike – I think that’s a recording of the debriefing Smiley conducted with Tarr.

  8. Thanks for your reply about the recorded message Smiley hears again and again as he pieces things together about the mole. You’re right–the recording sounds like Tarr’s voice, but I couldn’t figure out where the recording came from. Irina must have been a real insider at the Russian spy agency and that she told Tarr everything she knew.

  9. In the movie, I think Jim & Bill were ex-lovers. We saw the photo of them in the past. This can explain why Jim confided in Bill about Budapest. The reason Jim went back to kill Bill was from a betrayed broken heart. That’s why you saw him get excited and then sad when Bill came towards him at the staff party, & turned away. That’s why he made the comment about knowing many Bills to the schoolboy. That’s why he cried when he shot Bill in the end. Jim was in love with Bill, and Bill screwed him over. Peter wasn’t the only gay guy in MI5…Bill played on both sides in more ways than one. How about that for another story in a story of many stories. Clear as mud?

  10. Prideaux and Haydon were more than “close friends”; they were former lovers. Haydon is bisexual (thus his affair with Smiley’s wife, Ann). Peter Guillam is also gay (at least in the movie). Even though “Belinda the blonde” has eyes for him (running after him when he nearly forgets his briefcase, inquiring about his weekend plans, etc.), he is in tears as he talks to his “roommate” about the fact that he must move out after being instructed (by Smiley) to clean up anything questionable in his social life at their meeting. Peter’s male roommate asks if it’s anything he’s done that is causing their breakup, as tears run freely down Peter Guillam’s cheeks.

  11. Great movie, and I, too, find myself re-watching it to catch the things I missed. Here’s a question: what is the significance of Smiley pulling the gun out of the plastic zipper bag in one of the climactic scenes where he’s waiting in they’re going to catch the traitors? Does anyone have the answer? I can’t find any reference to that anyplace. Maybe you know?

    Also, I agree with the idea posed by an earlier poster, “sulkat, January 1, 2013 @ 7:41 am”: I thought I was just getting it wrong about what I thought was the significance of the look passed between Prideaux and Haydon at the Christmas party. I thought it looked very intimate and was intimating a sexual connection. Looking back in the movie, when Connie is reminiscing with Smiley at her boarding house(?) she pulls out a snapshot of Haydon and Prideaux, arms entwined, smiling, and says something about how they were “inseparable.” Between the Christmas party “look” and the reference made by Connie, I’d say that is definitely a gay moment, and those guys were involved in more than a mere “friendship.” And now that I’ve read these posts, I know I’m not crazy. THANK YOU!!

  12. Being Retired Military..my Opinion about Smiley pulling the pistol out of the plastic bag….(which by the way looks like a Walther PP…probably a .380)..is the fact that the British normally do not go armed….and I just dont see Smiley even as a member of the Secret Service carrying a weapon….so he probably was issued the Pistol from the Armament Section….and just put it in the plastic bag as a means of transporting it….rather than putting it in his coat pocket….or in his belt…..and if Im correct…I dont remember seeing him pulling the slide back to load a round in the chamber..I seriously doubt it would have been issued that way……he would have been given a loaded magazine…and quite possibly instructed how to arm it…..and here again…..by this time having a fairly good idea who the mole was….did not anticipate a physical encounter……..just my thoughts…..Hans Fischer

  13. In real life, the spy that Bill Haydon was based on — Kim Philby — was indeed released (traded) to the USSR, where he lived out his despicable life as a Colonel of the KGB.

    There were four other spies recruited by the Soviets at the same time as Haydon, all from Cambridge University I the 1930s. The fifth man was not confirmed and identified (publicly) until the 1980s.

    For starters http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Philby

  14. One more kudo for an outstanding movie with one of the most brilliant
    last scene. Julio Iglesia singing La Mer – an obscure recording from Julio’s younger
    life. ( Ch Trenet hit- later translated into ‘Beyond the Sea’- Bobby Darin)

    anyway, the convergence of events with this score playing in the background.
    1. the lovers look (Haydon and Prideaux)
    2. the killing of Haydon.
    3. the reuniting of Smiley with Ann
    4. the ascension of Smiley to the head of circus

  15. Great film , i watched it several times, but still cannot grasp some of its plot , even after reading the superb synopsis provided by our good friend here :

    Why did Allelline and friends fire Connie after she found out that Polyakov was possibly Karla’s underling ? How would this ‘rumor of a mole in Circus’ have affected Operation Witchcraft if Percy didn’t fire her ?
    In the Christmas party, the Santa Claus is leading the mass singing Russia’s national anthem. What does that mean ? Is being a spy on Soviet means that you ought to know their anthem ?

  16. The Christmas party is the crucial scene. It is a flashback and happened before any of the events which have preceded it in the film. Yes, Haydon and Prideaux have been lovers, and Prideaux obviously is still in love. But observe how Haydon looks at him – the calculation, the slight nods as if confirming a thought he has just formed, the false smile. In that moment he decides on his plan. Control suspects a mole, Prideaux still has a Hungarian ‘identity’ (as Control reveals when he meets Prideaux), so Haydon now sets up the whole plot that will propel the film. His plan (and thus the nods as he looks at his victim) is that Prideaux will be sent to Hungary to meet a bogus General so that he can be caught and interrogated to discover how much Control already knows about the Mole’s identity. Prideaux may suspect Haydon – so he warns him – but he does not know for sure until Haydon is revealed as the mole. Then, when he recalls the intense exchange of looks at the party and the rebuff, he knows he was setup by his lover, hence the scene in his caravan of despair and alcohol as he recollects this – immediately followed by the party scene in which we enter his memory. He kills Haydon because of this betrayal, and the sadness shows his ambivalence – he destroys his love object.

    If you do not agree, watch and rewatch the party scene immediately followed by the shooting. Haydon sets up his lover in the moment that he contemplates him at the party. Prideaux subsequently realises this and avenges himself.

  17. There is a moment in the Christmas party when I had to rewind a look again but he is there. The rather large and portly genleman who stands very erect just as the Russian national anthem ( if that’s waht the song they all are singing is) turns out to be in the usual Hitchcock moment , the author John Le Carre ( or David Broadbent I believe his real name may be. I recognised him from a youtube clip of his discussion regarding the 1977 BBC television series adaptation. It’s a great interview and he speaks so incitefully about Guinness in the role of Smiley. Very close to the truth about those times in the London wintry streets with the watchers of MI 5 and MI 6 chasing after Karla’s cronies. Gripping stuff.

  18. I wanted to join in with others in thanking you for this post, and also for the subsequent questions, answers, and abundant theories. It’s been a fascinating read.

    I have watched the movie twice and, while I had begun to grasp most of it, I knew there was much more to be found out in later viewings. I found this post as a result of searching about the movie so that I would be better prepared for my next viewing.

    This is one of those rare films to me that will become even more enjoyable after several viewings than it was the first time I watched it. And I agree with others that it is so refreshing to see after becoming accustomed to Hollywood’s habit of spoonfeeding plot in movies and always wanting more subtlety, more left to the viewer and the use of their own intellect. Masterful.

  19. What is the “Tapping”….when Smiley returns from Berlin..and walks into his Flat….he finds Haydon there…..who is sitting at the dining room table….and tells Smiley he just dropped a painting off for Ann..who had “expressed a liking for it..altho it was an awful daub”…..what I am confused about is the constant “tapping” you hear coming from apparently upstairs …where Ann is supposedly getting dressed…….whats with the constant tapping..??…it doesnt sound like someone walking around on a hardwood floor.?…at first i thought it was Haydon attempting to put his shoes back on…..but it just keeps on going….does anyone have an opinion on the “Tapping”.?…..and a short aside here….I thought it was a nice touch that someone noticed that Haydon was wearing Red Socks….just his way of a hidden tweak he was on the Russian (the reds) side……very subtle….anyway….lets chime in on the Tapping mystery……Danke……Hans Fischer

  20. I can’t say I noticed constant tapping, but my memory is that Haydon may have had something in his hand, a matchbook perhaps, that he taps on the table several times. Geez, now I’ll have to watch it a NINTH time. Thanks a lot!

  21. I have watched both the BBC TV adaptation and the movie, and read the book, and do not see how the TV series was dumbed down in any way. In my opinion both adaptations are very well done. I think there is every possibility that Haydon’s housekeeping did involve a communication to Prideax, but did Smiley tamper with the contents?

  22. Hi Beth..Thanks for the reply……actually it sounds like Anne is walking around upstairs on a hardwood floor…..maybe getting dressed..?….but to me it definitely sounds like the “tapping noise” is coming from upstairs…..where Haydon has apparently just left……..and if you listen closely….it does sound like walking……..and i dont remember Haydon with anything in his hand….even if he did…..it wouldnt make the same sound……..so I go with Anne getting dressed and walking on the hardwood floor…….let me know what your opinion….and as you said….Im going to have to watch it again…and pay more attention to that scene…….every time I watch this Excellent movie…..I understand something else…… Danke Hans Fischer

  23. I thought the tapping was from an unseen phonograph. The record is over and the turntable keeps spinning with the needle tapping on the wind-out groove. The idea is that Anne and Bill would have had music on during their romantic encounter and did not have time to turn it off before the unexpected arrival of Smiley.

  24. HI,

    I have watched this film over and over. I love it!

    I do however have some questions…what is the significance of everyone at the Christmas party singing that patriotic song? Why does Control include Smiley in his departure from the circus? How does Control die? And was he murdered? Oh so many questions!!

  25. Thank you so much for this synopsis! I watched the movie on DVD last night and it helped a lot! One thing I was wondering – it does not really say in the Gary Oldman movie, maybe it does in other adaptations or the book – what happened to Tarr, in the end? Did he leave the espionage world for good?

  26. I thought the tapping noise was a record player that continues to run when the record has finished, indicating that they got caught up intimately whilst listening to it. I’m glad to read that others share the opinion that Haydon & Prideaux were intimately involved. I thought I’d imagined it!

  27. Here’s my interpretation (all answers arguable), easier ones first. Control dies of cancer (or maybe cirrhosis; they all drink like fish!) The “Circus” holiday party has a Russian theme, they all speak Russian, and they sing the Russian national anthem before Santa (Lenin?) arrives. Control is rather like Smiley’s mentor; they have worked together. When the film begins, they have been implicated as moles in the Hungarian plot set up by Karla and Heydon (the actual mole). Prideux reported that during his torture/interrogation, the chief Russian flashed Smiley’s lighter, indicating a link between them. How Karly got the lighter is explained during Smiley’s talk with what’s-his-name (Cumberbatch’s character).

  28. Tarr told Smiley he intended to quit the service, he didn’t want to end up “like your lot.” So after he went to Paris and set the final action in motion, I assume that was the meaning of the shot of him standing in the rain outside a gate.

  29. It’s quite a complex book so it’s no surprise the film left a few perplexed! The beauty of it for me was how Karla was able to get MI6 to effectively run and support his operation.

  30. Thanks for the explanations :-)

    I watch the film about once a month, or so and I think I’ve got it all nailed down except for one last thing.

    I can’t see any reason why it’s Bill Haydon who goes to the safe house to meet Polyakov. From the information available to TTS & S they obviously have to arrange for Ricky Tarr’s demise but why does it have to be through Polyakov and why does it have to be Haydon who makes the arrangements? Surely any of the 4 could have done that?

    It seems too convenient that it’s the mole who actually goes.

    Or did I miss something else? (Possibly!).

  31. Oops I have a second question :-)

    Why is Bland never mentioned again?

    We see Esterhase being dealt with.

    We see Alleline as a broken man giving a rye acknowledgement to Smiley as he leaves the nursery (I think it is).

    But there is no further mention of Bland at all.

  32. I still believe that Smiley or the Foreign Minister could have ordered Haydon’s assasination at the end, primarily to save face with the Americans and bcause they know they can pin it on Karla and the Russians, though Karla wouldn’t have given a damn but it’s still a show of toughness by the British after looking so weak and inept.

  33. If Haydon could see Jim coming and Jim knew that, he must have felt a little silly about his choice of a telescopic rifle. Of course, the book indicates a pistol was used, making Haydon’s visual contact a bit more plausible.

    Love notwithstanding, a man of Haydon’s character would not smile for the bullet…

  34. Hi all — thanks for all the comments. I think this post is still one of the first few search results for people who’ve seen the film.

    I lost my job a couple of months ago. I’ve been searching, and I’ve had some interviews, but money is starting to get tight. If you’re going to be buying anything from Amazon today, tomorrow, next week, or whenever, would you mind doing it through my affiliate link (http://www.amazon.com/?_encoding=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=ur2&tag=malnusnay-20&linkId=TTIPNH4G5MZJ6XUF)? It doesn’t add anything to your purchase amount, and it would help me out a bit.

    Thank you so much!

  35. Hi – I’ve just read the book, then watched series & film. I have 2 questions though that are really bothering me, and although I can see some have been touched on above, would love to get absolute definitive answers please:

    1) Smiley must know (or strongly suspect) that Haydon is the Mole after his visit to Sam Collins’ Casino (duty officer for Control on night Prideaux shot).

    (In film version Collins changed to Jerry Westerby for some strange reason even though that name is another important character!)

    “But you didn’t tell Ann about Czecho when you phoned her …” – Bill DOES know about it though when he arrives at the Circus & Smiley knows it was too late for his club!

    Same point is absent from film though, it’s just included as a way for George to explain to Peter how Haydon was at his house that night.

    Why was this not pursued as the main line of enquiry, even if it wasn’t sufficient justification to sandbag Haydon immediately? Info appears relatively early in book (pp 273 out of 422) & early on in series episode 5/7

    Even though Karla used Bill’s affair with Ann to blindside Smiley, he wouldn’t have overlooked this I’m sure, so figure I must be missing something.

    2) Is it inferred that Bill Haydon is complicit in his own death ???

    i) Book mentions a possible rendezvous arrangement via the dry cleaning, but is deliberately ambiguous (although it was certainly Prideaux, which Peter belatedly realizes & George clearly knows). When I read it, I assumed Jim was acting alone avenging personal & professional betrayal, and not as result of a prior arrangement to kill Haydon (ie I assumed the dry cleaning was just a red herring that Smiley, Guillam, Lacon et al would’ve had to consider)

    ii) Series suggests a rendezvous plan and / or method of entry to Sarratt via the cleaning (delivery maybe?) – it shows Jim Prideaux approaching cleaners shop & also an unspecified person’s p.o.v. shot from inside the Sarratt barracks

    iii) Film looks like Bill & Jim meet eyes before the shot, this immediately following a flashback of them at party establishing continued love & understanding between them – is this ending also deliberately ambiguous like the book??? – (my 1st thought was that the apparent impression of their eyes meeting at the barracks was just to give pause for thought, but not to be serious – now I’m not so sure)

    I think (again) I’m missing something obvious here – the series (usually the most subtle) seems most unambiguous on this point, and that Haydon knew what was coming (though the fact that he’s unsurprised when Jim makes his presence known behind him tells us nothing because he’s such a cool customer!) It also looks like Jim kisses his cheek, but with astute 70’s TV “tradecraft”, even this is unclear. Nice 70’s style karate chop to neck kills Haydon outright, and was certainly painless. Even though Haydon would’ve been bored as hell in Russia, it’s hard to see him preferring death, and was previously impatient for the “horse-trading” to finish so he could get moving! It’s always possible that Jim’s torture could’ve turned him into a sleeper agent, though there’s no hint of this anywhere at all.

    I loved all 3 formats of this story, and looks like you all love it too.

    Hope you can help with these questions – thanks so much again.

  36. Quick comment re post I just made (awaiting mod).

    Clarification for anyone just seen film only, “Czecho” is cos book & series put Prideaux in Brno Czechoslovakia, not Budapest Hungary when shooting happens.

    For anyone who has seen both, what do you think of these as the best characters?:

    1979 Best Versions – Smiley (just about), Guillam, Prideaux, Connie (by far the better), Bland, Tarr (also only just tho)

    2011 Best Versions – Control, Haydon (by far), Alleline, Esterhase

  37. Why does Jim Purdeaux shoot Hayden?

    Smiley earlier insinuates that Purdeaux “already suspected” Hayden was the mole… but then went to Budapest anyway?

    If that was supposed to be clearer – it wasn’t, and made your above ‘straight’ explanation far harder to decipher from the film due to ‘extra information’ that was apparently contradictory.

    Why was Purdeaux returned to England in the first place? Even Smiley says, “you’d think they would have shot him”. As a favor to Hayden? Then why does Jim kill him in the end? How did Smiley learn about Purdeaux’s existence and location?

    There’s lots in the film that simply jump-cuts from one situation to another, and its not confusing for lack of ‘information’ so much as confusing for the endless suggestion that there are connections between cuts that are significant when they aren’t. I’m tempted to consider it a badly made film for how they made the narrative more confusing than it needed to be.

  38. Well , it is actually more complex than all of this. The best is to read the books (several times ) and to watch the original BBC series with Sir Alec Guiness.If you follow closely, you can see that Smiley knows that Haydon is the traitor all along, but must orchestrate events so that Haydon’s unwitting accomplices will believe this to be true when he (Haydon) is finally unmasked. In the first episode of the BBC series,

    Prideaux is called to a secret meeting with Control, who informs him of the mole. He calls Jim into a locked room and shows him biographical pages of the suspects as well as newspaper clippings that are pinned on a corkboard. If you freeze your DVD player at these moments you will see that he handwritten bio pages are true to life and contain the birthdates of the characters.

    Later in the series, Smiley is talking to someone(Guillam as I recall) and discusses

    Karla’s life history. He notes that Karla traveled to England in the 1930’s ( as Herr Gerstmann) which is when he presumably recruited the mole Gerald. If you compare this time frame with the birthdates on the bio pages, you will see that Bland would be too young to be mole and Esterhase was not in England at the time. As I recall, Alleline would also have been too young, and is certainly too stupid.

  39. Okay,

    I’ve only seen the movie version of the story, which might have it easier to follow the layout of the movie. It also mean I have only limited knowledge of how closely the movie follows the book, though WIKI is, as usual, good for highlighting the movie and some differences to the book. (Apparently, I am one of the few that followed this complex movie on the first viewing.)

    Actually, it is easy to identify the flashbacks: Smiley’s glasses. Immediately after his “retirement” he get a new pair of glasses, much boxier, larger, and the thickness of the frames themselves are heavier. It is also further highlighted by the glasses symbol on the door as he exits the shop.

    I think this movie is, from the “thinking man’s” perspective, nicely crafted, It is not intended for the kids who watch the mindless nonsense that most movie are now. One thing with this movie is that nothing is without significance; if you get distracted even for a moment you will miss an important clue.

    One other thing I enjoy immensely about this movie is that it is not the average Bond/Bourne movie. You are in Smiley’s footsteps, sorting out a very complex puzzle that is truly what a case officer’s job is, often a lot of boring “drone” work.

    And in reality, MI 6 (Special Intelligence Services, US: CIA) would not conduct a mole hunt. MI 5 (State Security, US: FBI) would conduct the mole hunt. Read “Spy Hunter” by Peter Wright (MI 5 DDG) for the hunt for the “Cambridge” network (“Kim” Philby, etc…). Roger Hollis (MI 5 DG) was the 5th member of that network.

    Now, (with this caveat; the material covered is not in the order that they are in the movie, I’m just to answer a range of questions put forth here) here we go…

    Control is dismissed by Lacon and the Minister at Alleline’s urging. Control saw through Percy’s plea of innocence, answering very clearly that he knew that Percy was behind his dismissal, commenting: “You did all you could” in shafting me. This was in response to Percy claim of innocence: “I wish I could have done more.”

    BTW: The “C” that “Control” signs on his resignation is not for either “Control” or “Chief.” It is the initial from the latter half of MI 6’s founder: Sir Malcolm-Cumming. Thus, in writing his James Bond novels, Ian Fleming, in his typical tongue-in-cheek humor, chose the other initial: “M” That they used just the “C” is an example of how they work MI 6 subtleties into the movie,

    Connie is dismissed because Alleline is protecting Polyacov, Witchcraft’s secret source.

    Jerry is dismissed because he could have possibly reported Jim’s capture to Lacon. Remember, the night Jim was shot, “Lacon and the Minister were baying at the door. Thank Christ Bill Hayden showed up when he did.” They wanted a rational explanation for Jim’s presence in Hungary. Only Jerry knew anything about Control sending someone on an “important” mission that day. Bill tells Jerry that “I got half a report on the ticker-tape at my club.” In fact, Bill was at Smiley’s house when Jerry called.

    Peter is gay. As Richard is leaving the flat, he tells Peter: “If there is someone else, you can tell me. I’m an grown-up.” As Richard put the keys on the table, Peter looks at him, devastated. This immediately after Smiley tells Peter: “After today, you have to assume they’re watching you. If the is anything in your life needs tidying up, now is the time to do it.” I think, unspoken by Smiley, is that he is aware that Peter is gay. Keep in mind, Smiley’s uncanny ability to “read” people.

    Also, as Ricki’s (“thug” work) boss, Peter is essentially MI 6 top security “enforcer.” This was shown when Esterhase got into the Citroen that Peter was driving.

    Esterhase was among the four of top managers of the “Circus,” but when he gets off the elevator, Peter is waiting for him, both front doors of the car open. He couldn’t avoid Peter’s invitation to join him. Mendel is already in the back of the car (a “retired” special branch man). Mendel had been recalled to service by the Home Office at Lacon request. (Several times a second Special Branch man, younger than Mendel, is assigned to Smiley’s team; when Peter’s pulled off Ricki, and during the tape recorder test at the safe louse.)

    When Smiley gets in, Esterhase is surprised. He thought Smiley had been dismissed, and was no longer associated with MI 6. Smiley deliberately chose Esterhase as he was the weakest, and had the most to lose. On the runway, Toby breaks, fearing repatriation to Hungary on Russia facing charges of treason. He also chose Esterhase because he shouldn’t have known about “Tinker, Tailor,” yet he did. How?

    As a Special Branch man, Mendel’s credentials would have been sufficient to satisfy any questions the mechanics might have had. The call was made from the garage so that any check would prove that it had come from an active garage.

    The tape recording that is repeated throughout the movie is of Rikki reporting to Smiley what Irena had passed to him: “She said everything the Circus thinks is gold is shit… made in Moscow… everyone on the top floor is laughing themselves sick… Karla was proud of it.”

    What Jim is forced to listen to during his interrogation is “babies screaming on tape” (from sub-title). Five minutes of that would certainly destroy me.

    Smiley’s gun: MI 5 (State Security) is required to have a Special Branch man with them, but that MI 5. Remember, this is MI 6, and Mendel is Special Branch, assigned to Smiley, by the Home Office. The weapon would have been bagged if it was an “MI 6 special.” Whether Smiley ever chambers a round or not need not be shown, time constraints of a two-hour movie limit how many small details can be presented. Peter, MI 6’s top “goon” did check his. (Under British law, members of MI 5 and MI 6 are prohibited from carrying side arms. It’s why Mendel was assigned to Smiley,)

    The Christmas Party: the “big” song is the “National Anthem of the Soviet Union.” Santa Claus is Stalin; they are mocking the Soviet Union, where religious beliefs and observances have been outlawed (and followers persecuted). Jim and Bill do make eye contact, as Bill turns away, Jim expression turns to sadness, a rift is starting. They had been lovers, that is reinforced several times during the movie. It is also during the Anthem that Smiley see Ann kissing Bill (We can’t see that it’s Bill, Smiley may not be able to either, that is not clear.)

    And, even without speaking Russian, the Anthem is not hard to learn. I bought it after watching “The Hunt for Red October” and if pressed, can sing it. Karaoke, anyone?

    Jim shot Bill strictly for personal and obvious reasons: The biggest was Bill’s numerous betrayals, including Irena’s death. Jim’s suspicions that Bill was the mole were confirmed when he learned that Karla already knew of Control’s search, he “only wanted to know how far he (Control) had gone with his investigation.” His tears reflect the sense of loss of the bonds that had existed between them, even while Bill was a mole (for years).

    Jim is at the edge of the tree line, within Bill’s range of sight. Scope, even at close range: if you have it, you use it. From the barrel length and diameter, it is a small-caliber, low-velocity weapon (small silencer). It is certainly not a standard sniper’s rifle, it is too short and light for that (It hangs lightly on his shoulder). And even though it is highly accurate within it’s design range, the scope become more important on a weapon and round of that caliber, even if only to correct for elevation.

    Bland fades out of the picture as he not a major character within the scope of the movie. The other three are the important ones. Alleline, the leader of the four (never referred to as “Control,”) Haydon, the mole, Esterhase as the tool.

    At the safe house, Smiley, Peter, Mendel and the second Special Branch man arrive, surprising the “minder,” Miss McCraig, as no one is supposed to know about it. With their Special Branch credential’s, she is left with no choice but disclose the layout of the house.

    Ricki goes to Paris to lure the mole out of hiding. He sends the top-priority message to the Circus. When the reply arrives, he has Ben read it aloud; the reply that comes in is not a reply that Ben would have expected, providing further proof of the lengths that the four will go to to protect their source.

    After the four leave the safe house, Bill returns to the house to discuss a way to draw Ricki to a meeting point. but have him killed before he can arrive. As Bill and Polyacov are finishing, Smiley walks in: Bill’s the mole. Polyacov reminds Smiley that if any of his goons arrive, he has diplomatic immunity. And Peter walks in.

    When Smiley arrives at the Nursery to talk with, he’s got his umbrella, he dry and comfortable; Percy is walking out, complete soaked and frozen to the core, and devastated that he’d been actively supporting and protecting a Russian mole for years.

    At the end of the movie, Ann is back, Smiley is supremely confidant (rightly so) as the new Control, and Peter is “back in heaven” now that Smiley is where he should be. Ricki, out in the rain looking into the store front, symbolizes his departure from MI 6 after learning that Smiley had been unable to free Irena. (Smiley wouldn’t have told him that he knew she already dead.)

    All of this is after Smiley was expressing exhaustion when taking to Peter about Karla, wearily: “All I want to do is get this over so that I can get home.” ( It’s implied that he wasn’t expecting Ann back either.)

    One final item: I loved how in “the Room” they would subtlety focus on the different faces in different ways each time, leaving you thinking which of the could be the mole,

    I think that I’ve covered many of the questions raised here. I hope so.

    Keep watching.

  40. stopped reading at first line. Even I understood that Tarr goes to Istanbul, Turkey. I’ll try somewhere else.

  41. That’s cute, but the first line has nothing to do with where Tarr goes, so clearly you read further than that. Presumably through the part where I said I was writing this post from memory having (at the time) recently seen the movie, the BBC miniseries, and read the book, and where I stated, quite clearly, that it was quite likely I was confusing some places from book to miniseries to movie. For example, in the book, Tarr goes to Hong Kong. In the BBC miniseries, he goes to Portugal. In the movie, he actually goes to Turkey. Anyway, I’m sure Wikipedia was helpful to you and I’m not sure why you left such a troll of a comment.

  42. ‘Allow,’allow! I love watching the Gary Goldman movie, and view it 2-3 times a month. Just about every timeI see it, I notice another detail. so, tell me what you think of my perspectives, this is:fun! oh yes, not in order, either! Jim prudeaux’x trip to Budapest was a setup by Karla, to determine the extent of Control’s investigation of a mole. C was fired because it all ended as planned by Karla in Jim’s death (falsfied, as found out later). Control took Smiley with him, and did not say anything to him as to why because he knew Smiley was the only one who could figure it all out Later:.. as Oliver says, ‘NOW THAT YOUR OUTSIDE THE FAMILY…”

    Always Someone to Blame:

    Control signs off in the 2nd week of November, after Pridoux is believed dead (Karla’s trap) and he is blamed for everything it caused; and because he sanctioned Jim’s mission ‘off the books’ (a debocle, Oliver calls it)

    Coincidentely, Tarr, codes his message to the Circus on Nov 20th about Irina. So, the mole tells Karla, Karla has Irena arrested, Tufty killed, Boris killed. Thenweeks later, when Jim is about to be released – Irena has also been kept prisoner, but is shotin front of Jim. They dont know each other, but the timing played right into KArla’s hands – they could blame Control for sending Jim & the resulting trouble in Hungary, including the killings of the spy-cell Irina belonged to; Tarr for being the mole, killing Tufty and because he didnt return right away and ‘suddenly’ had a good chunk of money in his account.

    -Ricky didnt return for a long time, ‘holiday romance’ to finally tell his story to Mr Smiley

    -Smiley tells Mendel about 1K pounds given to Mr Ellis, one of Jim Ps identities; ‘jim was killed a year ago…’

    -the ‘tapping was a circa ’70s record player.

    -Annaline had Connie dismissed ‘just 2 weeks after Control and Smiley were forced out’ because she came too close to revealing Polyakov’s past .  – i dont think Jim & Bill neccesairly wer ‘lovers’; it is very common in England for boys and men to be close, throw their arms around each other, pal around, etc. Although, it seemed Hayden would do anything to keep the suspicion off him, i just didnt assume. At that party, JIm didnt seem too happy and was alone; then saw Bill w/2 drinks – only to be turned away from.

    i think the christmas party was hysterical – most were singing the russian anthem word for word, so it was a good ‘poke’ at the russians. Hey, the jobs wouldnt be there if there was no Cold War happening. Funny tho, how ester house wasn’t singing, LOL.
    Ann was Smiley’s weaknes- and always had been.
    I thought Control committed suicide.
    bill was told in confidence by Jim about the ‘tinker, tailor’ code, basically because Jim couldnt believe it himself.
    i thought Jim was sanctioned to shoot Hayden because why should Hayden get to live?
    lastely, if Smiley was going to identify Hayden as the mole – absolute proof would be needed, w/out any doubt. So, people may have had their doubts, but PROOVING it was another story.

    Smiley looked great on his ‘comeback’ and as he sat at the head of table, I wondered who was at the table with him?

    its late, and i have more to jot down – but at least consider this: watch the movie a few times. The more you see it, the better it gets, the more untangled it gets. Spy novels shouldnt give out every detail – i agree with the writer who said something similar. Relax, haf fun. Read the books if you can.

    i loved the story, and just like Cloud Atlas, it has to be seen more than once.


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