Near the beginning of the new film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, just after he gets kicked out of the Circus, George Smiley gets a new pair of glasses.1 In contrast to the horn-rims he’s been wearing, the new frames are squarish bifocals that magnify his eyes.2 They remind us Smiley has, in exile, become a watcher, rather than a player.3 He’s removed from the action, behind glass.

And throughout the movie, so are we. Almost every scene in this movie is about windows: we frequently see characters or important actions through windows, rather than directly, at the least reminding us that we see each other through a glass darkly.

Most of the online stills from the movie don’t show this – probably because what makes a compelling framing on the theater screen doesn’t work as a promotional photograph where we want to see the actor – but I believe I’m right about it.

Consider the scene where Control learns from Jerry Westerby that Jim Prideaux has been shot. We see stunned and immobile Control in a corner of a window, pleading Jerry partly through a doorway – it emphasizes the opacity and inaccessibility of Control’s mind, ensnaring Jerry who desperately wants to move.4

Or when Smiley learns who Ann’s lover is, or when Ricki Tarr first sees Irina in action. Or when we see Oliver Lacon’s house. It’s all about the windows. I have to see the movie again with this in mind really to figure out what I think about it.


1This is brilliantly done – John Hurt’s Control says, “Smiley is leaving with me,” and we are looking at the back of Smiley’s head – but the little twitch that Gary Oldman gives indicates Smiley didn’t, until this moment, know he was also on the way out.
2The new specs of course look like Alec Guinness’s from the tv series; the lenses in them made me wonder if Oldman could actually see while playing this role.
3They also serve nicely to distinguish the flashbacks from the current narrative.
4John Hurt is great as Control, Stephen Graham – who I haven’t seen in anything since Snatch – is perfect for Westerby. In fact it’s overall a terrific, even perfect, cast.