"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" takes place after the revelations of double-agents have put "The Circus" back on its heels. The head of intelligence, "Control" (John Hurt) believes a new mole has cropped up inside the agency, but he dies before being able to carry out a internal affairs investigation. The last of control's Old Guard, George Smiley (here played compellingly by Gary Oldman) is brought out of forced retirement to track down the mole; there are four main key figures he has to investigate and ferret out the one rotten apple before his own agents are shut down by the mole or "Moscow Center" further compromises his old agency, and everytrhing he and his cadre of spy recruits in "The Nursery" training center worked to build up since the end of World War II.
The politics around the story hardly matters as much as the threat of suspicion, betrayal and distrust. Smiley knows something about all this in his private life as his beloved wife, Ann, has been sexually involved with one of his suspects and the rest of his peers in the Circus know full well he is a wounded cuckold. Oldman imparts a weary but stoic and dogged portrayal of a man not home in his own home or his old agency.
He is driven to finish a job and its only at the end--for those who haven't read the book-- that we realize his work is far from over. Hanging over the whole story like a haunting specter is Karla, a Stalin-era Soviet super-agent who somehow survived the purges of Krushchev's
de-Stalinization programs at the Kremlin. He's a true believer that Smiley once tried to turn to the West in a meeting in New Delhi, and who wouldn't even flinch despite the desperate situation he faced back in Moscow.
He has more up his sleeve than the mole Smiley is trying to take down, hence the need for LaCarre's next two books in this series, "The Honourable Schoolboy" and his next masterpiece "Smileys People", later a 1982 television series that one hopes will become the next movie with these writers, director and fine cast.