A ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ sequel: How likely is it?
With the carefully paced spy thriller “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” storming the art-house box office this weekend – it notched a whopping $75,000 on each of its four screens -- filmgoers could soon be in for another dose of John le Carre’s iconic George Smiley character.
The man who plays Smiley in “Tinker Tailor” says that a follow-up based on le Carre’s novel “Smiley’s People” is a very viable possibility. “There are whispers,” actor Gary Oldman told 24 Frames. “Actually, I think they are more than whispers. I think it could very well happen.”
A “Smiley’s People” film would be based on le Carre’s third book in the so-called Karla Trilogy. (The second tome, “The Honourable Schoolboy,” is set largely in Asia and also did not rate an adaptation when the BBC turned “Tinker Tailor” and then “Smiley’s People” into miniseries material in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.)
In the Cold War trilogy’s final novel, the taciturn Smiley is now retired from the Circus, the secretive British espionage agency. But his life is shaken up when an agent and friend turns up dead, as the battle between Smiley and Soviet arch-nemesis Karla begins to intensify.
As Oldman sees it, the well-reviewed “Tinker Tailor” introduces viewers to a bevy of characters who could then be mobilized, with a minimum of exposition, for the new story. “We've basically set the kitchen up, so we can just come in with another recipe,” the actor said.
Certainly filmmakers would have cinematic justification. While this movie’s ending (spoiler alert, skip ahead if you’d rather not know), shows Smiley back in charge, it leaves tantalizingly open the issues of how long and under what conditions.
But a new film also wouldn’t necessarily look to pick up on every dangling strand from this picture. “It’s a very good story and it can hold up on its own,” said Oldman of a “Smiley’s People” adaptation. ”It’s a sequel but it’s not a sequel. It’s rather like ‘The Godfather: Part II’ in that sense.”
Of course, any new Smiley film would have to make financial sense. "Tinker Tailor" has performed well in the U.K., where it topped the box office for nearly a month, but the Focus Features film's commercial fate in the far larger U.S. market will be determined as the movie widens in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Oldman said he thought a new movie would work creatively only if—fittingly for a spy thriller—the team came back together, principally producers Working Title, himself and enigmatic director Tomas Alfredson.
Alfredson could be a wild card. The director has evinced a clear preference for mixing things up, as you can see from this recent interview with The Times, and it’s an open question whether he’d want to return to the same territory.
At the very least, he’ll be working on a movie in his native Sweden for his next project, according to him and Oldman, which would put a “Smiley’s People” at least a few years away. Given the deliberate pacing of “Tinker Tailor,” though, that should be a relatively minor wait.
[For the record: An earlier version of this post stated that in the book "Smiley's People," George Smiley is in charge of the British spy agency, known as the Circus. He is retired.]
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Credit: Focus Features