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CINEMA Study in brown


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy DIRECTOR: TOMAS ALFREDSON


was long gone, evaporated like smog; 1960s psychedelia, which only touched a handful of metropolitan postcodes anyway, had vanished too, leaving only the odd streak of orange. Otherwise the palette was dour and apologetic – what Tomas Alfredson, the Swedish director of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, has referred to as a mood of damp tweed. His version of John Le Carré’s 1974 novel of mole-hunting in the British secret service lays out bolts of the stuff: the streets are grubby, intelligence operatives toil in greenish-beigeish painted offices; cor- ridors open on to ranks of desks where women process and file for the men; outside the city, sad gardens droop like overlong sideburns. It may well be drab, but none of this is boring: just as the 1980s flats in Alfredson’s previous film, Let The Right One In, became a supernatural fortress for a vampire, so the mood of this film, the very pace of the camera as it tracks slowly along a street, screams a kind of defiance in defeat. The glory of Britain is faded – oil prices and industrial decline will further squeeze its dignity – and its authority in the world is far from certain.


W TELEVISION


Public courage, private grief


Children of 9/11 CHANNEL 4


anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on America. Children of 9/11 (11 September) found a new angle. At least 3,000 children lost either a mother or a father in the atrocities. This mov- ing documentary, made up of sensitive interviews and poignant home video, told a few of their stories. Thea Trinidad, then 10 years old, was at home when her father phoned from the 103rd floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center to say goodbye to her mother: he knew he was not going to make it out. The three daughters of Tom Burnett went off to school while their mother answered the phone to their father: he was ringing from the doomed United 93. Rodney Ratchford, then 11, heard the explosion when a plane hit the Pentagon, and was excited to see tanks and soldiers in the streets of Washington; he only found out later that the attack had cost his mother’s life.


T 28 | THE TABLET | 17 September 2011


he airwaves this week and last have been full of programmes marking the tenth


as there ever a decade as relentlessly brown as the 1970s? Victorian black


Gary Oldman as George Smiley: ‘the cleverest man in the Establishment’


The film (for it is neither the book nor the 1979 television series and comparison, though inevitable, is frustrating) has to convey the depth of betrayal and sadness of unwillingly retired M16 officer George Smiley, least self- promoting of heroes, to a new generation of audience raised on more explicit action and intrigue. This adaptation begins with an inci- dent that is only hinted at in the book – with guns and running, more like a conventional espionage thriller. Likewise it ends with some- thing less ambiguous and mysterious than the novel. Along with Alfredson, screenwriters Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O’Connor made some key, even surprising changes, all approved by Le Carré in the interests of the film-makers’ creative freedom. The old distinctions of class and background and the verbal wrestling that characterise Smiley’s encounters with the various suspects


Counselling helped some, but not all. Thea Trinidad wouldn’t talk. Rodney Ratchford objected to what he called “stupid questions, like ‘How do you feel?’” He was sent to live with his father’s relatives in Alabama: soon he went off the rails, joining a gang and selling drugs. The Burnett girls, meanwhile, became little celebrities. Their father was a 9/11 hero, having fought back against the terrorists and prevented the plane hitting its intended target. They were frequently on television, and they met President Bush. But the public mourning did not assuage their private feelings. Madison Burnett, eight at the time, had always said a prayer for her father’s safe return when he was away at work: this time, she hadn’t. “I guess you could say I’m blaming myself,” she says. One thing most of these young people shared was a reluctance to be bundled together as “9/11 kids”. “I don’t want to be known as the girl who lost her dad in 9/11,” said one. “I want to be known as the girl who’s crazy and outgoing and loves life.” Nonetheless, some find solace in an annual summer camp, where they meet their peers, to talk to or just be with. Other people don’t understand. Caitlin Langone, daughter of a firefighter who died in the North Tower, is now 22. Government compensation bought her a car, a university education and some unkind remarks from her peers. “Do you think I’d rather have a car than my Dad?” she asked, rhetorically. “Are you kidding me?” John Morrish


in the novel are replaced by more economical cinematic methods. In any case, would those 1970s social subtleties mean much to the majority of the contemporary audience? A strong cast (including Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Colin Firth and John Hurt) ensures that if you see these men around a table, the difference in their physical appearance and stance immediately sets up a tension: bull ver- sus weasel versus red setter and so on. As rogue agent “scalphunter” Ricki Tarr, Tom Hardy seems modern, even slightly anachronistic, which neatly reinforces his outsider status. And as for Smiley, Gary Oldman is a sleek mongoose, quietly prepared when the time comes to strike at the snake within the Circus. On occasions, the light is so reflected in his glasses as to make his eyes invisible. He takes repeated goads about his wife’s offscreen infi- delities along with the corrosive knowledge of treachery among his colleagues but, although wounded, he never seems in danger of breaking. As the hunt enters its final stages, he is energised by an intellectual violence that is the more dangerous for its control. In the end, though, for all Smiley is the


cleverest man in the Establishment, this engrossing interpretation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, like the brilliant original work from which it springs, leaves you in no doubt that the country the Establishment exists to protect is itself entering a brown study. Deception and disappointment will be keynotes. That is the real matter in front of these old Cold Warriors around the table. Francine Stock


THEATRE On the boil


The Kitchen OLIVIER, NATIONAL THEATRE, LONDON


S


ir Arnold Wesker will be 80 in 2012 but the celebrations seem to have begun a year


early. I recently reviewed here the Royal Court Theatre’s magnificent revival of his 1958 play Chicken Soup With Barley – about the shifts in the politics of a left-wing Jewish family over 20 years – and now the National Theatre is restaging his 1961 piece The Kitchen. Prior to this pre-anniversary double bill,


Wesker had suffered a long period of neglect in British theatre, apart from a Royal Court revival of The Kitchen in the 1990s. This was partly due to the shifts in fashion that afflict most dramatists but also because, at one point in the 1970s, the writer was unwisely suing both the National Theatre and the RSC in contractual disputes. Bad judgement was fol- lowed by bad luck – when the actor Zero Mostel died during previews of The Merchant – and the world premieres of Wesker’s last dozen and a half works have taken place at smaller theatres outside London or New York. These overdue revivals of his 50-year-old classics confirm what a considerable writer


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