Smiley's People by John le Carre, adapted by Robert Forrest

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BBC Radio 4, 11-25 April 2010
What more can be said about Radio 4's long-running project to adapt the complete Smiley cycle that has not been already said? Patrick Rayner's production of Smiley's People contained some familiar elements - the emphasis on male bonding, a sense of disgust with the profession of spying (shared by Smile (Simon Russell Beale) and his fellow-spies) coupled with a desire to get the job done; and an inability on all the spies' part to disentangle friends from enemies. In this world, no one can be trusted; no more so than in Smiley's People, as Smiley once again engages with his arch-enemy Karla (Philip Fox) and eventually persuades him to defect to the west. While doing so he solves the mystery of the death of an elderly Estonian general, a nationalist activist, and an erstwhile MI6 agent.  However he gets no pleasure from his success: it's clear that for all his professional success, there is something lacking in his life.
This production explained why, as Smiley's inner thoughts were communicated directly to listeners through monologues, interspersed with comments from his wife Ann (Anna Chancellor). Although in previous adaptations she had proved an unfaithful and rather condescending spouse (she had had an affair with Bill Haydon in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), Smiley believes that his dedication to his work actually pushed her away from him. Now he is about to retire, he finds he needs Ann more than ever. But how far can we trust what he says; in the third episode we see him undertaking the familiar machinations leading up to Karla's defection. In the spy game, human beings are reduced to bargaining tools - anyone can be traded with 'the other side' for anyone else, when the security of the west is at stake. If this is what Smiley does at work, it's hardly surprising that he has failed as a husband. 
In Robert Forrest's adaptation, John le Carre's novel was transformed into an entertaining ensemble piece, distinguished by its vocal variety. A galaxy of character actors showed off their skills in cameo roles: Alex Jennings (Oliver Lacon), Lindsay Duncan (Osrakova), Maggie Steed (Connie Sachs), Richard Dillane (Guillam) and Sam Dale (Esterhase), Kenneth Cranham (Inspector Mendel) and James Laurenson (Saul Enderby). Russell Beale's characterization of Smiley stood out like a beacon - an exceptionally intelligent man with a prodigious memory, blessed with an acute insight into the strengths and weaknesses of his colleagues, as well as his rivals. On the other hand, he seemed incapable of transferring these skills to his personal life; hence his melancholy outlook on life.