So the film is out and has garnered some impressive reviews.
David Thompson gives us a few samples of some less impressed critics here:
I’ve left a couple of comments there (David’s comments threads are usually pretty in-depth and informative), but there’s a little more I wanted to add. It’s a good film, an excellent one, in which the atmosphere of the time is precisely drawn and the acting is first-rate. But it is, nonetheless, a view of the early 1970s from 2011. Sure, the palette is generally right, but it is right as far as reinforcing stereotypes goes. For example, the hair. Most characters’ hair is too short. Arguably, the SIS would have insisted on short hair – but if you look at the late 1970s TV adaptation, the woollier appearance of the characters is truer to the actual style and ethic of the time.
Is this important? Not really. It’s indicative that the film-makers didn’t quite have a grip on the times they were portraying, though.
And why is this? Well, there is one crucial element missing from the portrayal of late 1973. The atmosphere of chaos and impending doom. The three day week was approaching, coal stocks having been falling for months already. There was serious doubt as to whether Heath’s government would ever be able to bring order and stability to the country, and it is true that certain right wing figures were advocating authoritarian rule around this time, and gave it serious thought after 1974. Indeed, by the dates the film is set, the country was already under a State of Emergency.
But what we have in TTSS is a kind of quiet, orderly, fading from view. This is illustrated by the hotel where Smiley stays: an old sign has simply been painted over. The implication, that the owners can neither afford nor be bothered to do the job properly, stands for the environment as a whole at this time.
Of the colour of glam rock, of the violence on the terraces, of the deepening economic crisis, there is nothing. It’s a kind of frozen history, in which only one thing is clearly remembered: that it was grim.
That’s fair enough, but for a film whose central theme is the corrosion of British intelligence by a deeply penetrated agent, and thereby the corrosion of British governance at its highest levels, you’d think there’d be more to its presentation than a palette of thin colours.