DVD Review: Smiley’s People

Ever wonder what would happen if Obi-Wan Kenobi had to match wits with Captain Picard? Who would win? That would never happen as the Star Wars and Star Trek universes are kept separate by a legion of copyright lawyers. However, Sir Alec Guinness and Sir Patrick Stewart tangled in cold war espionage back in 1982 before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Smiley’s People was the BBC mini-series that followed Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Alec Guinness returns as master-spy George Smiley. He’s brought out of retirement to investigate the death of a former Soviet General that was his most valuable agent.

Why would a Soviet General be a fink on Mother Russia? Turns out the commie military leader dealt with the British through Smiley because he’s Estonian. He didn’t like Russians. He stumbles across a KGB plot to sneak an agent into Europe using the identity of a fellow informant’s daughter. He tries to call Smiley to report his finding, but the new folks in British Intelligence aren’t sure about the guy. The general gets shot before Smiley gets the message. Smiley must figure out who pulled the trigger on the general. He sense it might be Karla (Patrick Stewart), the KGB’s top spy. Over the course of six episodes, Smiley goes around the country interviewing suspects to finger the killer and expose the conspiracy.

The pacing is rather slow and deliberate as Smiley delves into the mystery. This isn’t the high octane intelligence thriller found in The Bourne Identity. It’s more like The Matlock Identity. That doesn’t mean Smiley’s People is boring. The episodes are compelling as Smiley knows this will be his last time working for The Circus (the nickname of the British Intelligence agency). Patrick Stewart plays a shadowy figure so there’s no major fist fight between Starfleet and the Jedi. This is a chess match between two grand masters except instead of slapping a clock, they’re willing to whack rival agents. Smiley’s People is a fine production for people who don’t need their espionage film to be a frenetic visual explosion every five minutes.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers are fine for an early ‘80s TV production. There’s a natural gritty nature to the frame. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The sound levels are fine.

John le Carre Interview (19:30) is a chat from 2002. He explains the character of George Smiley.

Production Notes includes a text interview with the producer and director. They explain they skipped over The Honourable Schoolboy since it would cost too much.

Glossary of main characters and terms is provided in the booklet.

Filmographies are given for the leading actors. Somehow Ingrid Pitt gets left out.

John le Carre Biography is an essay on the novelist.

Smiley’s People reminds us that spies never completely retire. They’re always getting dragged in on cases. Alec Guiness does a fine job of showing Smiley as a man who can’t leave his career. If you need to get Smiley’s People if you enjoy this winter’s remake of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Acorn Media presents Smiley’s People. Starring Alec Guinness, Eillen Atkins, Anthony Bate and Patrick Stewart. Boxset Contents: 324 minutes on 3 DVDs. Released on Blu-ray: October 25, 2011. Available at Amazon.com

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