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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: August 29, 2011 @ 11:04 pm

    The spy writer who stays out in the cold

    Laurence Mackin

    They don’t make spy films like they used to, and nobody writes a better spy novel than John le Carré. Which is why I got extraordinarily excited when I saw this trailer.

    This is a forthcoming version of Le Carré’s peerless Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, directed by Tomas Alfredson (the man responsible for Let the Right One In). The book was first adapted by the BBC in 1979. If it’s not part of your DVD collection than you have a dishonourable hole on your shelf that needs immediate filling. It’s a masterful piece of television that perfectly captures the quietly cunning air of menace that makes le Carré’s books tick with such desperately seething energy.

    Of course, one of the strengths of the BBC production is the inspired casting of Alec Guinness in the title role (though how good does Gary Oldman seem in that clip?). In fact, Guinness so completely inhabited the role of George Smiley (who le Carré had already fleshed out fairly definitively in his books) that his creator had to eventually give up on him – le Carré admitted that he felt he wasn’t so much writing Smiley as writing Smiley as played by Alec Guinness. Well this is almost true – le Carré says he was planning on winding the character up anyway, but after he met and worked with Alec Guinness, he realised that the actor had essentially appropriated his greatest creation.

    This is just one of the little nuggets that le Carré revealed in his last ever interview with Jon Snow back in September of last year. You can still see it on Channel 4’s website over here. This is a terrific interview and its only major flaw is that it is painfully short. Admittedly I’m biased when it comes to le Carré (though Jon Snow appears to be a little in awe of him here too) but this is worth watching for anyone interested in the craft, skill and mechanics of writing.

    Le Carré decided this would be his final interview ever, and so he gives some very candid and direct answers to Snow’s questions. What’s more, there is some revealing footage of le Carré at work, and the laborious process he goes through, writing everything in longhand and then editing it down in a process of cutting, stapling and scribbling, before his wife, who has been his editor for decades, casts a cold eye.

    This is a world away from how many writers work, and its lovingly portrayed here, from the thud of the heavy pen on the paper to the definitive clunk click of the stapler at work, and the cold slice of the scissors on card. It’s obvious that Le Carré is not one to court media attention – he has previously asked the Booker jury to leave him of its list for the International prize.

    It’s a shame that we won’t get any further insight into his work from the man himself, so in the meantime we’ll just have to look forward to his next book – and, of course, to see Gary Oldman doing his best not to be Alec Guinness.

    • Barry Cooke says:

      Read the series when I was a young lad and thought it was great. Reread TTSS about a year ago and was dreadfully disappointed. I felt his approach was deadening and quite disingenuous. He wanted to write a pacy thriller but seems determined to pad it out with tortured, uninspiring prose. Won’t be returning to others in the series. Still, trailer looks good.

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