It's probably safe to assume that anyone watching this BBC import miniseries has already seen -- and liked -- the classic "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." BBC's producers wisely recognized that the middle book of the series, "The Honorable Schoolboy," wasn't going to translate to the screen, so they went straight from the first story of the trilogy to the last. Comparisons between Smiley and Tinker Tailor are inescapable and it speaks well of the sequel that it is a worthy successor to the original.
"Smiley's People" maintains some of the main strengths of the original: Le Carre's taut characterization and plotting; excellent scripting, casting, and behind-the-camera work; and, most of all, Sir Alec Guinness's magnificent portrayal of the brilliant but profoundly flawed Cold Warrior George Smiley.
In some respects, this series follows the arc of the first one: George Smiley again is in a rather unhappy and not-entirely-voluntary retirement, having been removed once again following his brief return as head of the Circus. And, like the original story, he is called back in to take on a delicate errand for the Circus. The premise of this one is a little different -- he's brought in officially, by the current head of the Circus, rather than being somewhat offline, sponsored out-of-channels by "Lacon and the Minister." And the errand initially seems somewhat trivial: cleaning up the somewhat disorderly murder of a long-ago Circus informant. Obviously, the story quickly builds into something much deeper.
The plot probably isn't quite as compelling as the original, but then, "Tinker Tailor" was one of the best miniseries ever. This one takes a little longer to develop and some of the "visits" Smiley makes in his investigation (the obligatory visit to former research chief Connie, for example) seem more like sentimental visits than necessary parts of the investigation. The cast of "characters" Smiley encounters also seems a lot more miscellaneous than in the former show and some of the subplots (the Russian woman in Paris, for example) aren't that compelling.
But it's a great yarn and a very satisfying ending to George Smiley's Cold War.
I missed the steady presence of Peter Guillam in this series. The replacement character was far weaker and seemed much less "Guillam-ish" (the original Peter seemed a little more like a soccer thug who went to college, while the new Guillam seemed more like a croquet player). But he didn't appear until the very end and didn't really matter to the story.
This loss is more than made up for by the greatly enhanced role for Toby Esterhaze, one of the great character roles I've ever seen.
It's a great Cold War spy yarn and a very satisfying end to this saga.