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The adaptation of John le Carré’s ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, has impressed the critics around the world and is currently set to compete at the Academy Awards next Sunday, February 26. During pre-production, after Peter Morgan had written a draft, Tim Bevan of Working Title Films found that the screenwriter “wasn’t available to keep going with the script, so we went to the team of Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan to write the screenplay adaptation. They worked very closely with Tomas [Alfredson, the director] for almost a year.”
Le Carré offers, “When I read Bridget and Peter’s first draft, it was a piece of dramatic and intellectual architecture that I could admire. I knew I couldn’t do something like that. At that point, I joined their work. It was not the film of the book; it was the film of the film. I think they did it splendidly.
“The greatest compliment all of the filmmakers paid to the book, as far as I’m concerned, was to make their own film from it. I was there as a resource, that’s all; I knew the material very well, and I offered what mental agility I have.”
“Their first draft was so promising,” remembers producer Robyn Slovo. “It helped make the development process very quick, and we started casting the movie by the time there was a third draft.” Staying faithful to the period when it was written and published, the feature unfolds primarily in 1973 (progressing into 1974).
Bevan adds, “The team’s script represented the book, retained the complications of the book, and had integrity at its heart. As a producer, you’re always looking for a compelling story, compelling emotion, and compelling characters. Their script had those elements, and it is very much their script that was shot.”
The script was now in the hands of a director making his first English-language film. Alfredson muses, “I’m unpredictable with my career moves; something comes up and I’ll feel, ‘This is the right thing to do next.’ “This picture is certainly a big step for me. I’ve been doing films and television for almost 30 years, so it was a big change to work in a different language. But everyone was so helpful.”
Particularly so, he says, were the eyes and ears of the female half of the screenwriting team, Bridget O’Connor, who passed away just as filming began and to whom the finished film is dedicated. Alfredson reflects, “Since I wasn’t interested in doing it like the usual thriller, talking with Bridget about her interpretation and having her female eye on it was important. These men had to make use of their feminine sides and abilities. I needed that different perspective, and she helped me get it.”
In his research, Alfredson was fascinated to learn that “there was a lot of homosexuality in this world. At that time in Britain, it was not accepted, and there were spies and agents who could not be open about their sexuality because they could then be blackmailed. So Bridget and Peter were able to delve into this in the adaptation.”
To the director, the story particularly resonates and reverberates with “eternal and dramatic questions of friendship, betrayal, and loyalty. “Also, as we’ve now reached a little distance from the Cold War era, we can look at what happened; were the bad guys truly the bad guys? We should know about our shared history, especially this piece that still echoes today.”
Alfredson muses, “There’s also the factor of, ‘I know something that you don’t know.’ Say that, or hint that, to someone, and you’ve got their attention and are getting into their head.”
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