Smiley's People (1982)

Smiley's People (1982), directed by Simon Langton.

Once again, the anonymous-looking George Smiley is called out of retirement to clean up a mess for the British secret service: one of his old agents, a former Russian general, has been murdered in London. "Don't make waves, just put it to bed quietly" they tell him.

Smiley cannot be controlled. He may look like a neatly dressed old geezer wandering around without purpose, but he is a master spy, trainer of spies, and when he detects that his old Soviet rival, Karla, has made a mistake... well, one is all it takes and Smiley is deep in pursuit before his own people have any idea of what is going on.

His colleagues remind him that he is violating his own rule about retired intelligence operatives: no consulting, no independent action. "When it's over, it's over. Pull down the shades and go home." But this is Karla. Smiley can't resist bringing in the biggest prize of his career, and the Circus will just have to accept it.

Like the earlier Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) miniseries, viewers who don't know the story may have a hard time following this. Who are these people, and how does this all tie together? What does Smiley see that we don't? Watching the unexplained pieces come together is part of the fun.

John le Carré said that his development of Smiley in the screenplay was much influenced by Alec Guinness's understated performance in the earlier series. In the books the more excited Smiley becomes, the more bland and disinterested he seems. For an actor to both reveal and conceal: that is a fine accomplishment.

Patrick Stewart returns for yet another non-speaking scene as Karla. It's poignant, the two old adversaries face to face once again, but with nothing (or too much?) to say. In a sense they've outlived the passions of their struggle, but in another way that's deceiving: old spies can cause a lot of death and destruction, something their managers understand clearly. Karla drops the lighter he took decades ago, but Smiley lets it be.

Among the other returning actors are those playing the decrepit, brainy Connie Sachs and cool field agent Toby Esterhase. It's great how Toby (unloved in the first series), after initially disdaining the project, is happy as a puppy dog to be back on the job.

Now available on Blu-ray, although my thumbnails are from the DVDs. The Blu-rays for the previous series were of indifferent image quality, so I will not bother with an upgrade unless someone tells me it is worth it.