Saturday 16 July 2022

GEORGE SMILEY novels and screen - Rod Bishop continues his series - Part Two - A MURDER OF QUALITY

“Smiley himself was one of those solitaries who seem to have come into the world fully educated at the age of eighteen. Obscurity was his nature, as well as his profession. The byways of espionage are not populated by the brash and colourful adventures of fiction. A man who, like Smiley, has lived and worked for years among his country’s enemies learns only one prayer: that he must never, never be noticed…” 

“He knew mankind as a huntsman knows his cover, as a fox the wood. For a spy must hunt while he is hunted, and the crowd is his estate…”

“…The only Smiley I ever heard of married Lady Ann Sercomb at the end of the war. She left him soon afterwards, of course. A very curious match, I understand he was quite unsuitable…I never did hear what became of Ann Sercomb…she went to Africa, you know…or was it India? No, it was America. So tragic.”


More a murder mystery than a spy story, John le Carré’s own screenplay from his second novel A Murder of Quality (1962) came nearly 30 years after publication and it benefits from these decades of hindsight, particularly in its dramatic tightening and narrative clarifications. 

Smiley (Denholm Elliot), for instance, uses his recessive inquisitiveness to blend into the background until the Carne schoolboy Tim Perkins (Christian Bale) is added to the murders. Smiley then starts roaming the village of Carne shouting and accusing almost everyone of the crime. 

Denholm Elliot makes a better fist of Smiley than James Mason and also finds ways to express some of the spy’s eccentricities. Le Carré is still evolving George Smiley’s character here, sharpening his observational skills and his perceptive insights into other people; mentally recording their shortcomings and their wavering relationship with the truth. 

In the feature film, directed by Gavin Millar in 1991, the author fleshes-out his characters for the screen and the chief beneficiaries are Terence Fielding, (played by Joss Ackland, so good as Jerry Westerby in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy); Ailsa Brimley (Glenda Jackson); and Felix D’Arcy (played by the aptly named Ronald Pickup) who even gets to sleep with an entirely new character, the vet assistant Alice Lawry (Samantha Womack). 

In a sex scene between D'Arcy and Lawry, one is reminded of the so-called B-grade producer, Roger Corman, and his oft-written note in the margins of screenplays: “Any chance of breast nudity here?”.

There are a number of copies of the film on YouTube including this one IF YOU CLICK HERE 

Previous: Call for the Dead/A Deadly Affair  Click to read

Next: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold


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