Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Smiley’s People DVD Review

Both had supposedly outlived their usefulness to the Circus, the British Secret Intelligence Service: George Smiley, the retired head of espionage, and General Vladimir, an aging informant who reported to him. When the general walks into a bullet after sending an urgent message to his old handler, the Circus asks Smiley to “tidy things up.” But Smiley hears Vladimir’s message as a call to arms against his nemesis, the Soviet super spy Karla, once again tantalizingly within his grasp in this gripping sequel to John le CarrĂ©’s classic Cold War-era spy drama, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Oscar winner Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, Lawrence of Arabia reprises his BAFTA-winning role as retired spymaster George Smiley for the 1982 sequel. Filmed on location in London, Paris, Hamburg, and Berne, Smiley's People co-stars Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation, X-Men), Eileen Atkins (Upstairs, Downstairs), and Bill Paterson (Traffik).  The miniseries also stars Anthony Bate, Bernard Hepton, Michael Lonsdale, Beryl Reid, and Michael Gough.

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

Skipping over “The Honourable Schoolboy,” Smiley’s People picks up years after the events of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (you can read my review of that here), and George Smiley (Alec Guinness) is retired once more.  As before, he is brought out of retirement again to help the British Secret Service or “The Circus” as they call it.  Smiley is called back in when one of his old informers named Vladimir (who used to be a Soviet general) demands to be contacted by Smiley only.  Vladimir (Curt Jurgens) is desperately looking for Smiley on behalf of his friend’s widow Maria (Eileen Atkins) who defected from Russia years ago.  Maria was forced to leave her daughter Alexandra behind during her escape which has weighed on her for years.
When Maria is approached by a Soviet agent who tells her that her daughter is still alive and that the Soviet authorities are willing to allow Alexandra to leave Russia to join her in Paris.  All Maria has to do is apply for French citizenship for her daughter and wait for her to arrive.  It’s not too long before Maria realizes that the whole thing was a ruse and she contacts Vladimir who then tries to reach Smiley.  Unfortunately for Smiley, Vladimir is killed before he is able to talk with him.  Retracing Vladimir’s last footsteps, Smiley finds a cigarette pack with a photo that leads him into a dangerous investigation.
In his later years, Smiley’s life experiences and his many years of chasing Karla (Patrick Stewart) have changed him.  InSmiley’s People, we see a more ruthless Smiley who shows no hesitation in using Karla’s methods to achieve his goals.  In his pursuit of Karla, Smiley has sacrificed many of his ideals, a fact that will hit home by the end of this series.  Smiley is also more bitter towards his estranged wife Anne who he still has not forgiven for her past affairs.  Things have turned bad across the board for Smiley since the Circus has changed dramatically since he was pushed out, he’s facing a lonely retirement, and the knowledge that Karla is still at large rankles him.  When the opportunity to catch Karla presents himself, George Smiley goes rogue and starts calling in favors from his many friends and associates from over the years .
This is the endgame between the two foes and Smiley pulls out all of the stops in his attempt to finally catch Karla.  After learning a secret that Karla had spent years hiding, it leads to a Russian attache named Grigoriev (Michael Lonsdale) who holds the key to drawing Karla out.  Filled with almost every Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy veteran with the exception of Michael Jayston as Peter Guillam (played this time by Michael Byrne), this is an excellent continuation of the series.  It’s a shame that they chose to skip over the second chapter in the trilogy because of the costs involved in shooting in the Far East, but I’m glad they finished up the story-line with flair and style.
As good as Alec Guinness was in the first series he’s even better here and there’s a lot more of him since he’s in just about in every scene.  In the first one, Smiley was one the periphery of the action, but this time he drives it since he’s gone rogue.  This series also provides Guinness with a much better role to play since we see all the complex layers of the man who knows he’s running out of time in every way possible and he’s determined to to win one last victory. Shot almost entirely on location at the very spots that were described in the book, this series has an extra authenticity and largeness to it that the first series was lacking.  With the author involved even more this time around, the end result is even more satisfying!

Video (3 out of 5 stars) 

Like I said in my review of the first series, this 4:3 full screen presentation is pretty much what you would expect from an old television mini-series on DVD.  It’s better than videotape but a far cry from what we are used to today.  Detail is acceptable but lacking, while colors and textures are muted and not defined well.  Black levels are fairly washed out and the picture can be downright murky at times.  Flesh tones are natural and consistent throughout the series.  This could be a lot better but I’m just glad it’s on DVD now.

Audio (3 out of 5 stars) 

The Dolby Digital track is also sufficient but could be better too.  Dialogue is clear for the most part, but there are some instances where the dialogue is muffled and hard to understand.  The music for the series is very clear and the theme song plays louder than the rest of the series so be prepared to adjust the volume.  All in all, this track is fine for what it is but it could have been improved.

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars) 

This is the same type of extras as the previous series which offers some nice information but I wish there was more.
  • Exclusive Interview with John le Carre – Once again this is the highlight of the extras with le Carre talking about writing the script for this series, Alec Guinness’ methods and concerns about his performance, and his thoughts about the trilogy of stories it’s based on.
  • Production Notes – Some facts about where the production filmed and why Michael Jayston wasn’t able to return in his role of Peter Guilliam.
  • Cast Filmographies
  • le Carre biography and Booklist
  • Full-Color Insert with Glossary of Characters and Terms

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars) 

This is a fitting conclusion to the series and once again Alec Guinness is fantastic in it.  This series has a different feel to it than the previous series but I liked the darker tone.  Make sure you watch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy first before you watch this series since they dovetail nicely together.  It’s always nice when the original actors return to reprise their roles and this one does that nicely and even the one role that was replaced doesn’t suffer as Michael Byrne is a great actor and always fun to watch.  Check out this series to find out if and how the fight between Smiley and Karla is resolved!
You can order your copy by clicking on the link below!

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