The history of translating John LeCarre novels to the screen--either to the movies or to TV--has been unusual. There were the great BBC tv series productions of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People with Alec Guinness as a masterful Smiley and fantastic support by Ian Bannen, Ian Richardson, Roy Bland, and many others, with Sian Phillips turning up at the very end as Anne. More recently, there was a good movie of Tinker, Tailor with Gary Oldman playing Smiley. And we should not forget the great performance by Richard Burton as Alec Leamas in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold quite a few years ago.
There've been others but I haven't seen them. Yesterday I saw the latest, Our Kind of Traitor, another in the post-Cold War LeCarre novels. It's now commonplace to say that LeCarre has never recovered from the end of the Cold War but actually, his imagination on display for all these years does him credit. This time he gets one of his innocents--civilians who find themselves ensnared in the doings of LeCarre's undercover world--a couple, actually, who find themselves trying to help a desperate Russian who has somehow ended up on the wrong side of the Russian mafia.
At least the powers that be in Whitehall and the Circus do ask the right questions, viz., what is Britain doing getting mixed up with a Russian money launderer anyway? I confess that apart from Ewan McGregor as the innocent professor and Damian Lewis as the MI-6 agent, I recognized none of the British cast. Having admitted my ignorance, let me now say that they are all, including the familar face of Stellan Skarsgard, often seen as a Russian or Scandinavian, terrific.
The film as a whole is a good spy adventure and has the usual intrigue at all levels. The in-fighting and efforts to right old wrongs within the "Service" remain the most compelling aspects of the plot, even more than the flight to get away from the Russian mafia goons. I don't think LeCarre suffers so much from the end of the Cold War as a difficulty in coming up with the great canvases of the Smiley days, including the novel of those days that was likely too long and too complex to make a great film: The Honourable Schoolboy.