Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Gary Oldman is George Smiley

There are three of them and Alleline. Allow me to become a keyboard-thumping dweeb for a few minutes. (“What’s new?” you mutter.) Nothing more stirs up the Nerdisphere than casting decisions on films of much-loved cult entertainments. Remember the fuss …

Tue, Jun 8, 2010, 17:48

   

There are three of them and Alleline.

Allow me to become a keyboard-thumping dweeb for a few minutes. (“What’s new?” you mutter.) Nothing more stirs up the Nerdisphere than casting decisions on films of much-loved cult entertainments. Remember the fuss when Tim Burton cast Michael Keaton — “A COMIC!” — as the sacred Batman? If the internet were up and running in 1989 it would have blown every valve and fuse in its Bakelite-encased control module.

These sorts of outbursts are not just the preserve of comic-book fans. I have written reams about the way readers of novels demand too much fidelity from film versions. Let me reiterate a mantra I coined a year or two ago: Fidelity to the Text is Not a Virtue in Itself.

Where is this going? Gary Oldman as George Smiley? You have to be kidding. Okay, the actor is approaching the correct age — only a wee bit too young — to play the spymaster in Tomas Alfredson’s version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but he could not look less like the man described in John le Carré’s imperishable novel. The author originally felt that Arthur Lowe would be perfect casting for the short, fat, owlish, uncharismatic ascetic. When, however, Alec Guinness took the role in the flawless BBC TV adaptation, Le Carré very quickly came around and, he subsequently admitted, eventually came to visualise the character with Guinness’s face.

If you are familiar with neither book nor series (and most of you probably aren’t), it finds a former deputy chief of British Intelligence being dragged back to locate a Soviet mole in the upper ranks of the service. More a study of office politics than a thriller, the story takes in fabulous dialogue as it skewers post-war British decline. Every character is beautifully defined and — a seemingly minor point this, but interesting — each has a name that in some insidious manner sums up his or her sad personality: Roy Bland, Connie Sachs, Toby Esterhase, Bill Haydon and so forth.

Actually, I think Alfredson, director of Let the Right One In, probably knows what he’s doing. Today’s story brings us back to the early 1990s when Oldman was named as a possible John Self in an adaptation — never made — of Martin Amis’s Money. Initially, every Amis fan tutted the same annoyed refrain: “He’s not bloody fat enough!” But, on reflection, it became clear that it was more important to get an actor with sufficient gravitas than one who looked like the man described in the text. After all, Nick Frost looks very like Self, but, with the best will in the world, he wasn’t very good in the version of Money that finally turned up on the BBC last month.

Anyway, as the casting process continues, we Le Carré fans continue to enjoy the speculation. Today’s report also mentions Colin Firth, Michael Fassbender and David Thewlis as potential cast members. For what it’s worth, I’m betting Firth is Bill Haydon, Fassbender is Peter Guillam and Thewlis is Jim Prideaux. Mind you, Thewlis is at least a decade too young for Jim. He might make more sense as Ricky Tarr…

Hello? Hello? is anybody still reading this?

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