Your RDA of Irony

Eugene At the Movies

It is only a matter of time before “The Forsyte Saga” is made into a two-hour action epic set in outer space.  (Princess Irene is unhappily married to Soames Vader and runs off with his cousin Jolyon Vader.)  I recently saw “Moll Flanders” relocated to the Red Neck South.  Yes, that does seem like a clever idea;  but that was the limit of its wit.  The updated “Jolene” kept all the hapless heroine’s sexual misadventures but none of Dafoe’s bawdiness.  It was more anthropological than fun.  I gave up after 20 minutes, although that was enough for two nude scenes by Jessica Chastain.  (This film is recommended for teenage boys.)

So you can imagine my dread in viewing “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”  How do you condense the complexities of a John Le Carre espionage novel into two hours?  Worse, now that the Cold War is ancient history, how do you edify an audience that watched “Lincoln” thinking the Civil War was fought against the Germans.  (That was only true in Wisconsin.)  Some 30 years ago, film makers considered the challenge of “Tinker, Tailor…” and resigned themselves into producing a six hour mini-series.  It starred Alec Guinness as the sly, subtle George Smiley.

Now, the story has been remade as a two-hour movie with Gary Oldman as the understated hero.  (I must compliment any Oldman performance where he doesn’t seem like Sid Vicious.)  Let’s see if I can describe the plot.  There is a Soviet double-agent in one of the top positions of British intelligence, and George Smiley has to find him.  No, don’t congratulate me for that succinct explanation; I only know it because I saw the six-hour miniseries.  There are four suspects; of course, the traitor turns out to be the only one who is likable.  Even his rationale for treason is somewhat endearing:  he didn’t think that he was betraying Britain but rather annoying America.

Of course, we annoying Americans might not appreciate that explanation, so the two-hour film chose to condense the answer from “those appalling Yanks”  into more of an existential shrug.  Somebody has to be a traitor; why not me.  That may be tactful but not satisfactory.  So I am offering an alternate script.

Smiley:  I do have a slight question.

Traitor (who also is the handsomest of the four suspects–but you’d expect that):  The Soviets do have a better national anthem than the Americans.

Smiley: Yes, the tune is much better, but the lyrics are absurd.  “Land of happy tractors, heroic beets…”

Traitor (who isn’t feigning a stutter in this role, and so won’t win an Academy Award):  There is an advantage to not speaking Russian.

Smiley:  If you determine your treason by the best national anthem, why aren’t you spying for the French?

Traitor (who you still picture as Mr. Darcy):  I did offer.  But French intelligence only wanted nude photos of Petula Clark.  I offered some pornography with Princess Margaret, but everyone has that.

Smiley:  At least, the Soviets respect Petula Clark.

Traitor (who really resents being confused with Colin Farrell):  It is not Russian morals so much as aesthetics.  They want nude photos of Margaret Rutherford.


p.s.  And here is the Soviet anthem:




  1. Cindy Starks says:

    I liked Petula Clark as Mrs. Chips in the musical remake of “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” with Peter O’Toole. And I thoght Jessica Chastain was in “Zero Dark Thirty,” where I don’t think she undresses for Osama Bin Laden. But I digress. My husband is a big fan of the Alec Guinness “Tinker, Tailor…” But I think he liked the Gary Oldham version too. As for “The Forsyte Saga,” did you know that Soames now stars in “Homeland” with Claire Danes, who is married to Hugh Dancy, whom I rather fancy. The circle of life and all… 🙂

    • Eugene Finerman says:


      The circle doesn’t end there. Hugh Dancy went to Oxford, so he probably is a double agent for the Bolshoi Theater. Expect a servant uprising in the next performance of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

      I realize that you are a child bride, but your elderly husband might remember an earlier production of “The Forsyte Saga”. It was one of the first British series to air on PBS, and its popularity paved the way for Masterpiece Theater. In the earlier production, however, the cast was made up of middle-aged actors portraying characters half their age. Kenneth More would never see 50 again, but he was supposed to be a man in his early thirties. The remake actually was better because it had less ludicrous casting.

      (And I am now older than Kenneth More was in “The Forstye Saga.!)


      • Cindy Starks says:

        Eugene — You looked up Hugh Dancy on Google, didn’t you? Anyway, my husband will laugh at your comment on him — he is actually a year and a day, I kid you not, younger than I am. His birthday is Jan. 24 and mine is Jan. 23 — one year apart. 🙂 And Kenneth Moore had nothing on you, my friend! Now, Soames, that’s another matter.

        • Eugene Finerman says:

          Dear Cindy,

          No, I actually knew that Hugh Dancy was an Oxford man. Why? An idiot savant can’t explain himself.

          Claire Danes is an Ivy Leaguer, so their little boy should be bright (and insufferable).

          If you are a social-climber, Ralph Fiennes is an actual aristocrat–with a lineage going back to the Norman Conquest (the winning side, of course).

          In the old Forsyte Saga, Soames was played by a homely actor named Eric Porter. He was 38 but looked 50. Irene was portrayed by an elegant woman named Nyree Dawn Porter. She was more attractive than the beanpole with an overbite who played the role in the remake: her name is Gina McKee. If Soames and Jolyon had run off with each other, it would have made more sense–and in keeping with that English private school tradition.

          Enough cynical corruption for today.

  2. Peg Pruitt says:

    I have not seen the new TTSS, but as soon as you mentioned that the spy was the most handsome of the suspects, I knew who it was, although I really enjoyed your subsequent hints. I enjoyed the original Forsyte. Saga, as I had not yet read the book. I was a fan of Kenneth More, especially in A Night to Remember.

    • Eugene Finerman says:


      The unnamed but handsomest of the four suspects didn’t have much competition. Two don’t even look human although they could have been auditioning for “The Hobbit.”


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