OK, admittedly it’s not boffo in, say, Marvel Universe terms, or last year’s “Top Gun” sequel. We’re talking more of a niche thing here. In fact, few of my readers here will take interest, unless they are avid Le Carré fans. (Which they should be.)
There’d be nothing blowing up, or people flying about under their own power in colorful tights, or other improbable things. In fact, maybe this idea might not be right for you, Hollywood, in your current state. Can we book Shepperton?
But it would be good. I’m excited about it. Just as I was excited last year, when I read one of Mr. Le Carré’s last efforts, A Legacy of Spies. It was such a gift to those of us to whom Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy opened such a wonderful world half a century ago.
It’s at this point I will lose you, dear reader, if you’re not into Le Carré….
Basically, Legacy plunged back through the decades to resurrect favorite characters from Tinker, and from the earlier masterpiece, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. It was better than a high school reunion, way better. (At least, I assume that. I didn’t go to my 50th reunion; I’m not even sure that there was one. I had only been in touch with one of my 600 classmates — our good friend Burl — and he died two years before such a gathering would have taken place.)
Better in the sense that it wasn’t just wandering about glancing at name tags and trying to figure out who these old fogeys were back in your heyday. This book took one of our very best friends from those days and plunged him back into the events of that intense time, in a way that was immediately relevant to all concerned.
To set the scene — Peter Guillam, George Smiley’s long-ago protégé, is in retirement on a farm in France. Out of nowhere, present officials of the Circus (or former Circus) descend on him from their garish new building on the Thames, requiring that he come to London and dive into the records and explain to them what happened to Alec Leamas — and to what extent Control, and Smiley, and Peter himself are responsible for those shocking Cold War goings-on.
You know how tediously judgmental these young folks can be about such things — come back, old man, and justify yourself.
I’m not going to tell you any more, except to say that as Peter endures their interrogations and immerses himself in the official, and unofficial, records, much of the novel takes place in his flashbacks, and the past comes very much to life.
I really enjoyed reading it last year.
So imagine how pleased I was to see Peter Guillam himself appear before me just last night, much older but still the same former head of Scalphunters.
OK, not the fictional character himself, but the next best thing: It was Michael Jayston, who portrayed him so perfectly in the 1979 Tinker Tailer TV series (possibly the best TV show in history), alongside Alex Guinness as Smiley. He was Guillam. Sorry, Michael Byrne and Benedict Cumberbatch, but he was, and you were not — especially not you, Benedict.
Here’s how it happened — I had just come in last night from a late-evening walk, finishing up my 10,000 steps for the day. My wife was watching the very last episode of “Murder in Suburbia” (an underrated ITV cops programme that only lasted two “seasons,” as the Americans call them) on Britbox, and she called my attention to the screen and said, “Look who it is!” She was talking about Olivia Coleman. But a couple of seconds later, someone else showed up.
It was Michael Jayston. It was Peter! Much older and greyer, of course, but unmistakably the same guy. He even had the same hair cut, and the same expression he wore when listening to Ricki Tarr tell his tale about the mole.
Of course, this had first been aired in… July 2005, shortly after I started this blog. And while he looked perfect for the part on the screen, he’s now, um… 87. Oh. Dang….
But so what? 2005 was just minutes ago, and this is Peter Bloody Guillam! Certainly he’s stayed in shape! But let’s get moving. I’m envisioning a high-quality TV-series rendition of A Legacy of Spies here, and I can’t wait to see it! And no one else (especially not you, Mr. Cumberbatch) could play the main protagonist.
I stand ready to help in this noble endeavor. Writing, casting, whatever you need done.
In fact, it occurs to me that Alex Guinness is no longer available, and here I am. Of course, I’m somewhat young for the role, unless you want me for the flashback scenes.
But I’ll do anything you need. Be the third assistant gofer to the gaffer, whatever. Let’s just get started…