First class le Carre and the best of the BBC, 17 Jan. 2011

This review is for: The Complete George Smiley Radio Dramas (BBC Radio 4 Dramatisations) (Audio CD)

This classic collection is worth every penny. It brings together John le Carre, definately best in class, with the BBC, and demonstrates what radio dramatisations can really be. The production values are superb and the casting inspired. Without doubt Alec Guinness sticks in the mind as the most memorable Smiley to grace our TV screens but here Simon Russell Beale redefines the role. Beale was the best Smiley on any platform at the time these were broadcast, long before Mr Hiddelston entered the le Carre canon. Smiley’s inner life is cleverly revealed and his tormented relationship with his sometime wife Ann is brilliantly realised through Anna Chancellor’s haunting voice over’s. The complexity of Smiley’s loyalities – by turns obligatory, naive, ruthless and dubious – to Ann, the circus, his paymasters and colleagues, are rolled out for the listener with a superb balance of show and tell – especially brilliant in radio. The collection runs from Call for the Dead through to The Secret Pilgrim – a treat for newcomers and fans alike as all the classics are here. Shaun McKenna and Robert Forrest have done a grand job in transforming the text for radio and these dramatisations are atmospheric in the extreme – the cold war era is palpable. Without doubt much of this is due to le Carre’s skill as a writer, but the dramatisation and production add the richness the texts deserve. I play these in the car as I do lots of mileage and sometimes steal an evening or a sunday afternoon – they are captivating and delicious anywhere.