"Smiley's People," a six-hour, six episode television series by the British Broadcasting Company, was directed by Simon Langton; and adapted for the screen by John Hopkins, and the author of the book of the same title on which it is based, British spymeister John LeCarre. Upon the television series' 1982 release, it was nominated for an Emmy, and many other awards, several of which, including the Emmy, it won. The LeCarre book on which it is based is the last of the highly-lauded British cold war trilogy, dealing with the struggle of English spy George Smiley, and his Russian nemesis, Karla. It is, of course, based on the real-life hunt for the actual counterspy, or “mole,” to quote LeCarre’s coinage, in the agency: that would be the actual Kim Philby, who, before he defected to Russia in 1963, had blown the behind-the Iron Curtain LeCarre, working there under his real name, David Cornwell. The plot opens as Smiley, once again out of power in the British secret service, called the circus by LeCarre, gets wind of Karla's acting in a possibly irregular manner. Smiley, with his lifetime of experience in the spy trade, immediately realizes that further investigation and maneuvering by the British may just result in great strategic victory. The LeCarre book on which this serial is based is another of the author's greatest hits. It boasts a complex, yet crystal clear plot, a wide variety of deeply drawn characters, witty writing and dialogue, and a solid footing in its author's spycraft experience. Mind you, both book and TV series are slower, more interior, and more intellectual than American treatments of the subject matter might be. But if you can get past the absence of car chases, you should agree that the BBC, in this effort, preserved the book's outstanding plot and dialogue, and gave it its then typical no-expense spared mounting. It boasts location shots, cars, and extras galore; great star acting in the many principal roles. Alec Guinness, reprising his role as Smiley from "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," the BBC's previous all-star serialization of the author's engrossing novel of the same name, first of the Smiley-Karla trilogy, must be considered first among equals. He gives Smiley a matchless solidity, and a transparent inner life. But for a change, the women here have fully-realized parts as well, and do more than honorably by them. Beryl Reid reprises her role as Connie Sachs from the first series. We finally meet Smiley's everlastingly unfaithful, treacherous and beautiful wife, as played by Sian Philips. Eileen Atkins is memorable as Mme. Ostrakova, with whom the action begins in Paris. Finally, Rosalie Crutchley acquits herself well as a nun, Mother Felicity. The male actors are also a mixture of reprises, and new to the parts. In addition to Guinness, Patrick Stewart revisits his role as the powerfully silent Karla. Bernard Hepton is Toby Esterhase; Anthony Bate, Oliver Lacon. They're joined by Barry Foster, fresh from success as the cheerful cockney killer in Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy,"playing the unctuous Saul Enderby;and, as assorted Russians, Curd Jurgens, Michel Lonsdale,and Michael Gough. There may, marginally, be fewer interesting characters, and a less compelling plot--after all, everyone loves a whodunit-- in "Smiley's People" than in "Tinker Tailor." But there's so much great stuff here, it would be churlish to complain.
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