On my recent trip, I managed to watch only one film from beginning to end. Despite the generous entertainment program, I could not concentrate or become interested. I tried to watch The Descendants, but found the story to be depressing. I dipped into My Week With Marilyn, but that story failed to captivate me. I switched to television episodes and watched re-runs of Family Guy and Modern Family. After that, I discovered Last Man Standing, which I found rather entertaining. I also found one about two women that started a cupcake business (can’t recall the name), which was okay given my captive-audience-with-time-to-kill status.
On the return leg from Dubai to Frankfurt, I chose to watch during my time at the troth. I have read the book (twice) and seen the excellent BBC television adaption (also twice) with Alex Guinness. I wanted to see if Hollywood could manage not to screw it up.
They could not.
Filmmakers always suffer from an uncontrollable urge to change things, when adapting a novel. Occasionally, some aspects of a book (for example, thoughts) cannot be conveyed on film, but one can always use dialogue or voice over. I understand the need to “show” viewers what is happening, but I suspect that most change results from the ability to do it with impunity. A good example of a novel adaptation is The English Patient; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is not.
The television version proved to be a faithful rendition of the novel, whereas the movie is muddled. Excellent production values and good acting do not make up for deficiencies in the screen play. If one has read the book, one is disturbed by unnecessary changes; if one has not read the book, one is surely unsure of what is happening and why. For example, a key event in the book, which takes place in rural Czechoslovakia, has been moved to urban Budapest. I can only assume that some genius in Hollywood (euphemism for whoever and wherever) noticed that Czechoslovakia has split into two countries since the story was written and felt that Budapest was no different (after all, both are in Europe, aren’t they?)
I would have to look at this again (if I have time to waste) but I seem to have noticed mistakes, such as computer screens and containers ports, which did not exist at the time of the story. I was too busy trying to figure out what had been changed and why, so much did not make sense. I am not sure if someone unfamiliar with the book will understand and enjoy this dated story. The key demographic for movie makers (male, 18 to 25) was not even born at the time, so will not understand most references.
The film kept my mind occupied, while I enjoyed Emirates’ dinner service. On occasion, I peered out my window at the landscape of Iran passing beneath the aircraft (more on this another day) and wondered if new spy novels are being written about another imagined foe…
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.