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The Looking Glass War


‘…smarter than the average spy romp…’

John Le Carre has been well served by tv and movie adpations, from The Night Manager to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and even in the 60’s, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and The Deadly Affair set a high bar. Something of a curiosity in the  le Carre stakes, this 1970 thriller gets quite a few elements right,and should be of interest to espionage genre fans.

Frequent protagonist George Smiley is dropped from the original book, but Anthony Hopkins, Sir Ralph Richardson and Paul Rogers all fit the bill as the crumpled espionage handlers with the power and life and death in their hands. The film’s centre, however, is Leiser (Christopher Jones), a Polish defector who becaomes a pawn in international espionage games when he’s recruited to spy on East German missile sites.

The first half of the film does well to suggest how and why Leiser accepts the offer, but things get a little simplistic once the mission begins, and a final bookend doesn’t quite work. Le Carre’s sense of realism and the intricate detail of the plotting doesn’t land as firmly as it should here, but the effort still deserves applause; it’s smarter than the average spy romp for sure.

Hopkins seems to have been none too impressed by Jones and his James Dean mannerisms, but it kind of works for the film that Leiser is so much of a fish out of water. The Looking Glass War feels like a compromised effort, but with a script by Le Carre himself, it springs to life whenever Hopkins and Richardson are on screen, and Frank Pierson, director of the 1976 A Star Is Born, creates some striking compositions that make this worth the rental.


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  1. This was a big misfire back in the day, too elliptic and Christopher Jones not really up to the mark. Strangely enough, I’ve been re-reading the book which in large parts is unfilmable.

    • That’s on my list! I think I was too young for Russia House at the time, but feel it’s worth another look now. Le Carre is a very skilled writer, and I’ve seen little with his name on it that didn’t engage me, so I’ll take your steer! Cheers!

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