Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy | 2011
With so many slam-bang action movies afraid to lose your attention for a second, Tomas Alfredson’s intense, pared down direction is refreshing. You need all your powers of concentration to follow John Le Carré’s hunt-the-mole mystery, and the murky Seventies atmosphere leaves you wanting to scrub stale nicotine from the screen.
In his espionage novels, Le Carré placed the headquarters of the fictionalised British intelligence service, based on MI6, at Cambridge Circus (which is why it’s simply referred to as ‘The Circus’), north of Leicester Square and overlooked by the grand Palace Theatre.
Although the real MI6 has been located in various places around London, Cambridge Circus was not one of them. For the Bond films, MI6 moved from place to place until the organisation finally came out of the closet with its purpose built HQ at Vauxhall, which you’ll now be familiar with from The World Is Not Enough and Skyfall.
This film sets the Circus in Blythe House, 23 Blythe Road, West Kensington W14 (that’s Kensington Olympia exhibition hall you can see from the rooftop). The modern office, which appears to be nestled inside the building’s courtyard, is added digitally. Blythe House, built in 1903 as HQ of the Post Office Savings Bank, currently functions as a storage department for the Victoria and Albert and the Science Museums. It was previously used on-screen in Warren Beatty’s Oscar-winning Reds, and more recently seen in Thor: The Dark World and in The Danish Girl.
The home of retired George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is in the leafy heart of Islington, north London, at 18 Lloyd Square, W1. Coincidentally, it’s just south of ‘Grimmauld Place’, the family home of Sirius Black (also Gary Oldman) in Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix). And it’s also only yards from Prideaux Place, Merlin Street and amazingly Percy Circus. I wonder if John Le Carré had his A-Z open at this page when he was coming up with character names?
Control (John Hurt) has a cluttered flat in Queen Alexandra’s House, Kensington Gore SW7, which is alongside the Albert Hall in Kensington, West London. Fans of Mulder and Scully might recognise this as the venue for the meeting of the elders in the 2000 film of The X Files.
Tasked with ferreting out the traitor in their midst, Smiley and his two trusted aides set up their headquarters in the glum-looking ‘Hotel Islay’, supposedly near Liverpool Street Station. The hotel’s uninviting entrance is the rear of the Farmiloe Building, 28-36 St John Street in Clerkenwell. This is again familiar territory for Gary Oldman, since the Farmiloe was used as ‘Gotham City’ police station in all three of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy – Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.
Most of the film was shot at the abandoned Inglis Barracks in Mill Hill, north London. Apart from Circus interiors, the squash court, the ‘Istanbul’ nightclub and even the extremely convincing Wimpy burger bar were built here.
The barracks site was due for redevelopment as housing and much has already been demolished. One part still remaining is the Officers’ Mess, which became the school in which the ‘disappeared’ Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) teaches.
One by one, British agents meet up with the Russian contact Polyakov at ‘safe house’ 3 Corbridge Crescent, E2, on the Regent’s Canal in Cambridge Heath, which aficionados of London film will recognise this as the site of Freddie Mays’s club in Paul McGuigan’s excellent Gangster No.1. This stretch of the Regent’s Canal, beneath the looming gasometers, is also featured in David Cronenberg’s Spider.
North of London in the Oxfordshire countryside, Carmel College in the village of Mongewell, was transformed into the ‘casino’ in which Smiley questions Jerry Westerby (Stephen Graham), who was manning phone lines at the Circus on the night Prideaux was shot. A Jewish academy set up in 1949, the school closed down in 1997 and is now abandoned and rather overgrown. It can be seen again in The Iron Lady, with Meryl Streep as PM Margaret Thatcher.
Outside the UK, the film’s events are set in motion by the arrival of Prideaux in Hungary, at Budapest-Nyugati pályaudvar (Budapest Western railway station), at the intersection of Grand Boulevard and Váci Avenue.
The old world shopping arcade, in which he’s gunned down in a moment of panic, is the Paris Court (Parizsi Udvar), which currently stands empty. It’s a perfectly apt location – during the Cold War, this is where many of those cloak-and-dagger meetings had taken place.
The visit of Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) to Istanbul was filmed on both the Asian and European sides of the Turkish city, with the production taking advantage of areas that have changed little since the Seventies. The main passenger ferry terminal, never before used as a filming location, became the hub of production.
It’s here that Irina (Svetlana Khodchenkova) is hurriedly bundled aboard the Russian cargo ship bound for Odessa. The narrow old streets of Istanbul also conveniently doubled for ‘Paris’ in the brief scene as Tarr sets Smiley’s trap.