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Tomas Alfredson and Peter Straughan Interview
Tomas Alfredson and Peter Straughan Interview
Tomas Alfredson is a Swedih film director best known for his vampire based horror, Let the Right One In. Peter Straughan is the screenwriter behind the adaptation How to Lose Friends and Alienate People and The Men Who Stare at Goats. Here the director and screenwriter of the film adaptation of John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy spoke to View’s Matthew Turner about recreating the Cold War feel the influence of British television on Swedish people.
We were just extolling the virtues of the 1970s Wimpy Bar, which you recreate perfectly in the film. How much did you immerse yourself in British culture?

Tomas Alfredson

I've been here quite a lot since I was a kid, I think the first time was '72 and I've spent a lot of time here since then so I was well acquainted. And we are breastfed British TV in Sweden … you remember those [hums theme tune to the old Thames television ident], Thames - yes. And Anglia and London Weekend Television - all those things we've seen. So we're quite learned.
Did you see the Alec Guinness adaptation out in Sweden?

Tomas Alfredson

Yes, it was the kind of show where all the fathers would say "Shut up! I want to see this. You get out or you shut up," and we did. I don't think I understood it at all, because I was eight or nine. I watched it later on and it's a great series.
What that part of the appeal of the project?

Tomas Alfredson

I watched it at the time and then it was quite useful for research for this film of course. It's complicated to remember the faces and the structure of it all, so it was helpful for that reason.
It was not going to be about the kind of power politics, but about the human relationships and the victims of that war...
What is the story about in your minds? You have to find a way into it, to put your spin on it.

Peter Straughan

I'd read it years ago and I enjoyed it when I read it again and I had forgotten that it starts in the book with Jim Prideaux arriving at this school as a broken man and he strikes up a friendship with a lonely boy there. It struck me as an unusual opening of a spy novel.

Tomas Alfredson

It starts with the boy, I think. Through his eyes.

Peter Straughan

I just remember Prideaux arrived in the caravan and that was the key to it. That it was not going to be about the kind of power politics, but about the human relationships and the victims of that war, the human cost. We used that as the guiding light and tried to not get lost in the complexity of the plot but always relate things back to what does this mean to individual humans. That's why we had the idea that in the opening scene we'd have the mother and the baby, she turns out to be an agent of course, but to have her shot - it's a powerful image to have her killed with the baby suckling. It sets that up straight away as what the film is about.

Tomas Alfredson

Well I think one thing that interested me very early on was the question 'Who were the soldiers of the Cold War compared to the soldiers in a Hot War?' It's different and in many ways a quite female world. If you compare the Alpha Male soldiers of the Hot War. It was relating to the imagination. A spy has to work with the imagination - is it her? Is it him? Is he the Russian guy? I have to relate to my imagination about that and at the same time I can't let the imagination take over because then I would be totally paranoid or do the wrong things. So, those elements and of course as Peter mentioned, the human cost and the personal relations between those people. This is not a documentary, even though it is very accurate.
Can I ask you about your process of adaptation, how long the first draft was, how long the first cut was? How was it in terms of deciding what to take out and still keep it together?

Peter Straughan

Script-wise the first draft was longer, and it was closer to the book structurally. It was maybe a hundred and forty pages, but it was never just getting the page count down but we just found by restructuring, trying different configurations we could get over as much of the story as possible. The TV series had the ability to build the story step by step and we obviously couldn't do that so we have to do a lot with allusion or just a look - compressing moments down.

Tomas Alfredson

The biggest structural difference is the Ricky Tarr story which is on top in the book and in the TV series. We felt it was like clumsy to start the film with a twenty minute flashback ...

Peter Straughan

Because you'd only just met Smiley and got to know him and then you'd be off with another set of characters so we knew we had to move that and that took a while to work out how to do that.
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Content updated: 21/01/2019 10:38

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