BBC Radio 4, 20-27 September 2009
Another meditation on the seamier side of spying in the Cold War - this time involving an idealistic young man Avery (Patrick Kennedy), whose aspirations are gradually extinguished by the old lags Smiley (Simon Russell Beale), Control (John Rowe), and the double-agent Leclerc (Ian McDiarmid). The plot scarcely deviated from the familiar Le Carré format, with British spies being sent across the Iron Curtain and learning not to trust anyone, particularly their supposed friends. Marc Beeby's production contained rather too much plot-description for my liking, but this was amply compensated by the down-at-heel mid-Sixties atmosphere evoked by sound-effects such as the endless tramp-tramp of leather soles on rough ground.
What emerged most tangibly from this production was that Le Carré is preoccupied with a particular construction of Englishness, associated with boys' public schools, 'playing the game' (or not playing it, as the case might be), and the repression of emotions in favour of an overbearing pragmatism. While Avery resented anyone possessing such traits, I feel that le Carré secretly admires them; they explain why Smiley is so good at his job. On this view, the novel can be seen as one of failed ambition, as Avery ultimately proves his unfitness to participate in the Cold War.