18 September 2013

tinker, tailor, subtle man, nobody

● There is no better gauge of the flattening of affect and homogenisation of mediocracy than remakes and sequels, if they provide comparison with pre-1990 values. Some themes appear to be beyond 21st century dramatists altogether; see for example The Stepford Wives. The most interesting recent illustration of the effect was the sequel to The Snowman, of which more anon.
The 2011 remake of Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor, which was recently shown on Channel 4, came close to being an exception, led largely by Gary Oldman’s Smiley. If acting greatness is measured by how far from your own persona you can create a convincing character, then Oldman’s was a great performance.
And yet, the whole thing didn’t quite gel. While Oldman’s enigmatic quiet was interesting, it seemed ultimately vacuous, something you could not have said of Alec Guinness’s version in the BBC production.
More seriously, the key to the flavour of the novel – the shockingness of betrayal – could not be conveyed while standing firmly within the context of contemporary values, as almost all retro productions seem to insist on doing these days, at least those with any political significance. (Jane Austens, being generally too preoccupied with themes of social interaction to deal much with power structures, tend to get spared.)
Betrayal – like violence, sexual peculiarity, infidelity – has become too commonplace to generate the frisson it did in 1979, without more effort at recreating the values of the relevant era than producers and directors seem willing to make.
The remake might have been as compelling as the original nonetheless, if the characters had been interesting, but they weren’t. Nor did they seem particularly realistic; I couldn’t imagine meeting any of them in real life.