Moles, leaks, espionage, double-agents and triple-crosses… Hollywood has provided a great insight into the truly complex world of spies through my latest trip to the cinema to see “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”.
For all interested in Cold War history- especially Brimsham’s Year 13s who are currently studying it in great detail- I wanted to give this film the praise it deserves! At risk of “Histor-C” turning into a film review blog, I won’t spend too long on the film itself, but on what it portrays of the British Secret Service in the 1970s.
The plot moves at perfect pace, providing just the right amount of progression and confusion for the audience. The all-star cast are all at the top of their game- not just Gary Oldman as “Smiley”- but all of them, from Colin Firth (Bill Haydon) to John Hurt (Control), from Mark (forever) Strong (Jim Prideaux) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Percy Guillam) to even Kathy Burke (Connie Sachs). The cinematography is wonderful, the score is beautiful in its simplicity- I can’t fault it as a film in any regard.
It also embraced all my inner history geek, and, as mentioned in a previous blog on Marvel Comics, this is something I’ll always appreciate! The film, and of course the original novel by the great John Le Carre, was perfectly in tune with the real happenings of the Cold War. It was not just about frontline politics, outspoken propaganda and backstage deals- the role of spies and intelligence cannot be underestimated.
Besides the re-emergence of the James Bond franchise, there hasn’t been too much in the way of a focus on spies and their work. The recent discovery of Amanda Chapman and Co– sleeping Russian spies in the heart of the US- briefly stirred an interest, but as Miss Chapman now enjoys celebrity status across the former USSR, the controversy seems to have died down.
But during the Cold War, the unknown world of spies hidden in the world around us was far more influential. Both sides used spies as a way of acquiring knowledge of what the other was doing or to spread lies of what the other was up to. They would steal military and political secrets, trade them even more, and be at constant risk of discovery. The double life we normally associate with superheroes was the norm for them. Spies played an important role in the development of the Cold War, from the Soviet’s surprise speed in building their own atomic bomb in 1949, to double agents, disillusioned with the war they were fighting, the lives they lived as a result, and enticed by the offers of a better one- none as controversial as “The Cambridge Five”.
And even after the Cold War, spying and espionage continued.In 1996, Russia expelled nine British diplomats for running a spy ring. In 1997, a former MI6 agent, Richard Norwood, was jailed for a year for passing secrets over to Russia. In 2002, Raphael Bravo was jailed for 11 years for trying to sell secrets to the Russians and in 2003 Ian Parr received a ten-year sentence for trying to sell to Russia Cruise missile secrets.
Later this year, we’ll watch the “Spies” section of the Cold War TV series (a great overview), which will help Year 13s get a better understanding of the roles that Spies played, but until then- go and see “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” to get a great introduction!