BBC Radio 4, 24 January - 7 February 2010
As another adaptation in the BBC's John le Carre season galumphed its
way across the airwaves, I was left wondering whether there was any real difference in terms of presentation between Marc
Beeby's production and the others in the series. Once again we heard Simon Russell Beale as Smiley - a melancholy yet stunningly
effective spymaster whose personal life lay in ruins. This time he was supported by a large cast including Hugh Bonneville
(Jerry Westerby), Richard Dillane (Peter Guillam), Maggie Steed (Connie Sachs) and Anna Chancellor reappearing once again
as Smiley's long-suffering spouse Ann.
However the context for the action differed little from the earlier adaptations:
we were plunged into a world where no one could be trusted, where nothing was as it seemed, and where concepts such as friendship
and loyalty counted for little. The historical setting might have differed (this time the action was set against the backdrop
of the Indochina war in 1975, with Smiley hot on the trail of Russian money leading to a prominent Hong Kong citizen), but
the form remained the same: the adaptation unfolded as a series of brittle dialogues between characters, in which subtext
counted for everything. No one ever said what they felt, for fear of being discovered (or, even worse, discomfited).
By the end of this three part version, I felt I had had enough of Smiley's world.
Perhaps Gillian Reynolds was right when she observed in The Daily Telegraph (1 February 2010) that
the production was "so full of explanation (that) you can’t see the characters (....) between them (the leading
players) and the rest of a vast cast (this project must have eaten the drama budget for several years) jostle words upon explicatory
words. The characters fade away, like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland."