Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Looking Glass War

Wide awake at midnight I decided to continue my Le Carré education by watching for the first time the film of the book the Looking Glass War and which appears to be a significant variance with the original work for the business of attracting cinema audiences.

To-date I have read the Karla Trilogy of Tinker Tailor 2162 2163 2164), The Honourable Schoolboy (2146 2147) and Smiley’s People (2135 2153 2154), watched the BBC TB production of Tinker Tailor on a digital set of DVD’s (2161 2162 2163 and 2164) and the a home video recording of Smiley although I now have the Digital version to view before Christmas. I have also seen the recent film edition in theatre twice. I have in the past read the Russia House which I shall re read after viewing the film which I have also seen on TV. I am in the process of completed my second reading of the Mission Song (2172). I have recently also viewed A Deadly Affair (2171) and ordered the book and will also purchase the Looking Glass War shortly.

The film and I also understand the book is the story of a former Wartime special services department which as with the Mission Song suggests the Ministry of Defence. The Circus and Smiley, the contemporary professional only become involved together with a representative of the CIA towards the end of the film when the project proves as bad in practice as it is in its conception. I will concentrate exclusively on the film version here as I intend to purchase and read the book. The main difference appears to be that in book former World War II agent is used which in the film a young virile lunatic is introduced together with his girl friend which works against the main point of the story.

The Department is headed by one LeClerc (Ralph Richardson) and assisted by Haldane (Paul Rogers) who bring in a young Anthony Hopkins who undertake some intelligence fieldwork within the permitted area of the West but not behind the Iron Curtain which is within the province of the Circus.

One of the key moments in film is when LeClerc explains to Hopkins that in the war they had to send countless young people to their certain deaths to ascertain if the enemy had progressed beyond their V1 and V2 rockets. Hopkins hits back at one point that because they then felt alive with their power and direct involvement now as old men there are trying to recapture the experience through others. This echoes comments by George Smiley when talking about his wartime experience with Dieter Frey in the Deadly Affair.

The cause of their excitement is that a wartime contact living in East Germany has sent him a photograph of what appears to be a long distance Russian rocket in Germany and the department bribes a British pilot from London to Finland to go off course and photograph and area to establish if Russian Rockets have been sited to reach as far as the UK. The original photography is blurred. The pilot complains about the mission because of flying low in the weather conditions encountered and passes a camera and film to a departmental field officer brought out of retirement for the purpose. Because this mission has not been sanctioned the contact he has to walk along a dark snow covered road from the airport to his hotel as he cannot afford a taxi. He is knocked down and killed in a genuine accident with the roll of film falling from his pocket into the snow at the side of the roadway where he has been thrown.

Hopkins is sent to retrieve the body and stall the authorities who query the fact that the man possessed two passports and that Hopkins although claiming to be a relative has a different name. Back at the department the principals are convinced it was murder to retrieve the film. They convinced the Minister to fund the training and sending ending of one agent into East Germany to check the area at first hand. A sum of £20000 is mentioned for which there will be no records kept.

Hopkins is charged with breaking the news of the man’s death to his wife and their young child. The girl is on her own at the flat unwilling to open the door from parental instruction and about to go to bed as she talks through the letter box. Her mother is at work and they leave a message with the girl to say they will return with news about her father.

Hopkins returns late to a dinner party with his own child waiting for him and his wife (Anna Massey) angry at his failure to arrive for the meal and concerned that he has found someone else. Hopkins is upset about the impact of him of death of their agent on the family and the child in particular.

Having secured financial approval the Department attempts to find someone suitable for the mission and pick on a young German seaman who is being held having jumped ship and was hoping to stay in the UK where from a previous visit he had met and made pregnant the delectable Susan George.

He is offered permission to stay if he undertakes a mission involving illegal entry into East Germany making contact with the photographer to see if he has any more pictures and to try and check the area and sending back by radio any information of value. The mission will take six week including his training which is arranged out of town and where Hopkins is assigned as his minder and is to accompany the young man up to the border fencing.

The first part of the film concerns the unsuitability of the temperamentally volatile young man for the mission and the doubts of the trainers and of Hopkins. The young man breaks out at one moment in order to spend time with the girl friend but this is short lived when he finds that has had an abortion uncertain of his intentions towards her and ability to stay in the UK. He admits that it is child which was his motivation and that without that she is only one of many young woman who find him attractive because of his looks and attitude.

Hopkins and the young man end up fighting and then getting drunk and being thrown out of the pub into a torrential rain falling night.

In the second part of the film follows the mission which goes wrong from the moment Leiser cuts and crawls his way under the fencing and then badly cuts one hand while a patrol goes past. He is then confronted by an individual guard who he kills. This alerts the East German Police and the Russians to his presence and who make the joke that it is unusual for someone to break in!

Leiser gets a lift when stopping at a coffee stop in the countryside and kills the driver when he admits he heard about the border guard murder and puts two and two together. He puts the body in the rear only to find an angry Alsatian, To create subsequent drama we do not see him dispose of the body and the animal and the vehicle, What is extraordinary is that on the chosen route off the beaten track to the extent that apart from the odd police vehicle and a cycle club there are no other vehicles.

However at one point when coming up to a herd of sheep blocking the road he encounters a pushy female with a child she says is a friend and appears to have been waiting for a lift. Shortly after they encounter an armed police check point and appear to fake his way saying that the reason why his papers are not those on the vehicle movement permit is because of late switch in drivers. The back of the vehicle is checked and is empty

They think he has got away with it but we know from a telephone conversations between the checkpoint and the Russians that the authorities are well aware that he is the spy killer and are keeping tabs on his movements for their own as yet undisclosed purposes.

The trio take a break by a lake where the girl decides it would better to ditch the car, revs it up and send it into the water.

Leiser makes his separate way to the photographer having reached the town destination but the man seems to think it is a game reliving the past and has no film or additional information. Leiser then makes his way to the hotel in town convinced it has been a wild goose chase and meets up with the young woman who is without the boy. While they are spending time together in the room a large Russian Rocket is taken through the town on a transporter. Rather than send the information there and then the girl suggests they go to a large office block where she has access and where he send the information. The authorities track the broadcast and the location.

Meanwhile the department is visited by the Circus and the CIA following the media being briefed by the East Germans about entry into their country and death, similar again in respect of the trap set in Tinker Tailor. The mission has been compromised and therefore has no further involvement abandoning Leiser to his fate; He and the girl are killed with the East Germans hoping he has advised of the missile which presumably was brought by the hotel to create the required impression. The book ending is said to have the spy captured and his fate unknown.

The problem with the film is that the basic point of he old order trying to provide themselves against their contemporary counterparts will be lost on anyone who not the basic background although the Karla trilogy with its more detailed accounts of the work of the Circus came later.

I thought with the death the film made a good point about the Spying game as did the Spy who came in from the Cold, but a far cry from the world of James Bond. Not a great film because so much seemed contrived and lacking the Le Carré usual story integrity but it engaged and made its point.

It ends with a bright spring summer day when the snow has disappeared and children discover the roll of film which they open and expose and then carry with them as one would a kite floating in the air above their heads. There is therefore doubt what was on the film. We suspect nothing of significance reinforcing that the man was accidentally killed and that the rocket displayed in the town was intended to give a false message to the West as the authorities delayed taking action until the transmission was made. He had been supplied with an ancient radio to underpin the cover story that this was a one off individualist.

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