If ever there was a movie that could keep my mind busy months after watching it, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is that movie. When I first saw it, last autumn, Cumberbatch was just a name in a cast that was dominated by the brilliant Gary Oldman and Oscar-awarded Colin Firth. I had not read the book, I had never heard of John le Carré and my only reason to see it was the amount of Oscar nominations it had received in 2011.
Well. Those must have been some dull times.
Spy novels are hard to turn to movie, due to the excessive glamour that the Bond series has thrown over the rather dark and plain reality. Real spies are no heart-throbs, they have no Aston Martins and their suits are less expensive than their furniture. In most cases. However, this movie is like very very precious whiskey, kept in sealed wooden jars at the bottom of a perfumer’s shop in the middle of a darkly scented forest.
A glorious, deliciously beguiling movie, filled with allusions at the age and at its problems, with deceit and lies and so many delightful dialogues. So little words, yet so well said. The eyes so focused. The face so tight, letting no expressions show. The emotions betrayed by little gestures, a nervous finger, a tireless leg. Nobody is your friend. There are only allies and enemies. Everybody lies. Everybody dies.
But since this is neither A Song of Ice and Fire, nor Moby Dick, the main cast survived, including Benedict’s character. Months after becoming part of the Cumbercollective, I re-watched this masterpiece and Peter Guillam rose in my attention and respect by billions of light-years. Beyond finally understanding that Benedict played a homosexual and all the other details that this brilliant man has brought to his performance, I also gained a new perspective over the way movies are made, over the vision of a director as amazing as Tomas Alfredson.
I love it.
I loved the subtlety of it all. I love how they told us nothing, yet they showed us everything. I loved the cold chemistry between each character, the morality of some and the absence of mercy in others. I loved how you figured out what had happened in the previous scene only after watching 10 more minutes of mind-blowing brilliance. And it wasn’t just the script, no, no. It was the perfection of a Swiss watch, a thousand pieces put together that gave you a power, a force to avoid meddling with.
This is not a movie review. I shall do it later, but not now. Instead, I want to make things right in the world again.
During the building of the climax of the movie, Smiley and Guillam find the safehouse and set up an intricate trap. As George goes to a back room, Peter recites a short poem, to check if the microphone and the gear they had brought worked properly.
It is not a remarkable scene, if you take the rest of the movie into consideration, but the detail-fanatic in me started to beg for a say. Benedict Cumberbatch is renowned among his fans (and not only, I dare say) for his Russian-bass velvet voice, that elaborate combination of seduction and danger that resonates in every syllable that he utters. The poems he has read are playing in my head and the rhyme I tried to make is buried in the wreck of this blog article, longer than a particle… Ah, head, stop making fun of me.
Anyway, in this particular scene, what made me connect with the yet unnamed and unknown poem was the cold and careless interpretation. Bridget O’Connor mentioned in the script that Guillam is reciting something from his childhood. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Benedict understood the way his character thinks very well and, by reciting Casabianca, for that is its name, he understood that in that poem, the essence of Guillam’s motivation stood. The boy on the burning ship, loyal to its cause, faithful to his father’s word, loyal to the death.
That is who Peter Guillam truly is. Not gay. Not angry. Not a mole. Loyal. Perhaps one of the few truly loyal characters in this masterpiece that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is.
“The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.
Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though child-like form.
The flames rolled on–he would not go
Without his Father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.
He called aloud–‘say, Father, say
If yet my task is done?’
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.
Upon his brow he felt their breath,
And in his waving hair,
And looked from that lone post of death
In still yet brave despair.
And shouted but once more aloud,
‘My father! must I stay?’
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud,
The wreathing fires made way.
They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.
There came a burst of thunder sound–
The boy–oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea!–
With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part–
But the noblest thing which perished there
Was that young faithful heart.”
- Page to Screen: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) (theliteraryomnivore.wordpress.com)
- Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (endnotesandampersands.wordpress.com)
- Paul Smith Dresses Gary Oldman For The Oscars (paulsmith.co.uk)
- Looking for an Adventure: a review on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (timespentobsessing.wordpress.com)
- Loyalty! (spiesatwoodbury.wordpress.com)