‘Smiley’s People’

George Smiley spots a Gauloises cigarette packet hidden up a tree.

Smiley’s People is a six-part 1982 BBC TV miniseries. It’s adapted from John le Carré’s novel, which was published in 1974. George Smiley (Alec Guinness) is on his own, pursuing the death of a retired general.

There’s a lot of good stuff going on here, mostly coming from Alec Guinness’ portrayal of Smiley. I didn’t find it as gripping or as psychologically tense as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (BBC, 1979).

Because Smiley is working on his own for much of the story, he’s operating in the mode that’s similar to a police detective. And the fact that he’s investigating a murder makes it feel more like crime fiction than spy fiction. Plus, because he’s on his own, there’s less opportunity for collegial banter and humour (not that Smiley is much of a talker).

There are poignant moments, plus some light relief. One comic scene takes place when the po-faced George Smiley visits a Hamburg sex club as part of his investigation.

The end of the story reverts back into spy fiction mode when Smiley sees an opportunity against his old adversary Karla (Patrick Stewart). The ending is particularly good and provides a satisfying conclusion to the story, which began in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.


Verdict: Interesting.