Jonathan Melville - Reeltime

IN this era of hyperkinetic action sequences that favour speed over storytelling, the box-office success of the more measured Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy seems to have surprised both audiences and critics.

Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carré’s novel combines some of Britain’s finest acting talent, led by the peerless Gary Oldman, with a script that isn’t afraid to take its time to tell the story of corruption at the heart of the British secret service.

The fact that a spy film doesn’t need gadgets, stunts and CGI– Spy Kids 4D, Salt and Knight and Day are recent examples – to be a success, isn’t too much of a shock to those of us who cherish our DVDs of 1965’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or 1966’s The Deadly Affair.

Both of the above were seen as a reaction to the increasingly gadget-happy James Bond films, which in 1963’s Goldfinger had given film fans a tricked-up Aston Martin and laser beams. What’s interesting about all three films is that their screenplays were written by one Paul Dehn, someone who understood that getting the characterisation right was vital before the addition of gizmos and gorgeous girls.

Perhaps even more interesting is that the winter of 1965-66 saw both Thunderball and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold released within a fortnight of each other, proving that audiences 45 years ago were offered the sort of choice we’ve been lacking recently.

So here’s hoping Tinker is the start of renaissance in smart spy films. I’m cautiously looking forward to Bond 23 in 2012, but the prospect of Tinker 2 is a far more exciting one right now and one that’s sure to keep people smiling.