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BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Gary Oldman set to come in from the cold to reprise role of George Smiley

Gary Oldman is prepared to come in from the cold to play the unobtrusive but brilliant spymaster, George Smiley, again.

Twelve years ago, Oldman successfully took on John le Carre’s ‘breathtakingly ordinary’ secret intelligence officer in a film adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — following Alec Guinness’s flawless portrait in the BBC’s 1979 version.

Guinness played the bespectacled spook a second time, three years later, in Smiley’s People.

The author’s estate now controls the rights to that one, and they’re planning a TV re-boot. ‘Gary would very much love to play George Smiley again,’ Douglas Urbanski, the actor’s long time business partner, told me on Wednesday night.

Gary Oldman is prepared to come in from the cold to play the unobtrusive but brilliant spymaster, George Smiley, again

In fact, Oldman has told me so himself. Several years ago he was in discussions to lead a big screen version of Smiley’s People, but there were unresolved rights issues at the time, and the idea was abandoned.

The new Smiley’s People would form part of an epic series of seasons devoted to le Carre’s novels, beginning with the novelist’s 1963 breakthrough, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. The project has been in development for several years; but filming could finally start later this year, or early next, a source close to le Carre’s heirs told me.

The Smiley’s People mini-series would likely follow that. The plot calls for George to come out of retirement to smoke out his most feared enemy: Karla, the cunning head of Soviet intelligence.

Last time round, he gained weight by indulging in treacle sponge and custard. ‘I called it eating for George,’ Oldman, who won an Oscar for portraying Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, told me

Last time round, he gained weight by indulging in treacle sponge and custard. ‘I called it eating for George,’ Oldman, who won an Oscar for portraying Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, told me

Twelve years ago, Oldman successfully took on John le Carre’s ‘breathtakingly ordinary’ secret intelligence officer in a film adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — following Alec Guinness’s flawless portrait in the BBC’s 1979 version (above)

Twelve years ago, Oldman successfully took on John le Carre’s ‘breathtakingly ordinary’ secret intelligence officer in a film adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — following Alec Guinness’s flawless portrait in the BBC’s 1979 version (above)

If it all comes together, Oldman will have to put on a few pounds to play the portly Circus ringmaster. Last time round, he gained weight by indulging in treacle sponge and custard. 

‘I called it eating for George,’ Oldman, who won an Oscar for portraying Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, told me.

The actor has been honing his spycraft skills recently, playing an altogether different variant to Smiley in Slow Horses. The AppleTV+ creation, based on the delicious series of books by Mick Herron, features a motley crew of ‘f***-ups and rejects’, as Oldman put it, from MI5. He plays the misfits’ wily boss, Jackson Lamb, ‘a farting, belching, working class version of George Smiley’.

Apple have allowed Oldman, Urbanski and fellow producers See-Saw Films, to devote six episodes to each of the Herron tomes, with 12 episodes in each season. The cast includes Jack Lowden, Kristin Scott Thomas (who played Clementine Churchill in Darkest Hour) and Jonathan Pryce.

Those who have viewed a rough cut tell me that it’s sensational.

Star-studded Downton of New York 

Old money, old families, ambitious arrivistes, shenanigans on all floors … must be a new Julian Fellowes drama.

However, for The Gilded Age, he takes us across the Atlantic — time travelling back to 1882, flinging open the shutters on the grand mansions that lined the Upper West Side of New York’s Fifth Avenue.

‘They have been in charge since the Mayflower,’ one character says of the city’s ruling class into which our heroine, Marion Brook, an orphaned young woman played by Louisa Jacobson, is plunged when she seeks shelter with her aristocratic aunts, played by Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski.

Baranski’s eagle-eyed, regal Agnes van Rhijn is a sort of American cousin to Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess in Downtown Abbey, with a tongue just as sharp.

Old money, old families, ambitious arrivistes, shenanigans on all floors ... must be a new Julian Fellowes drama. However, for The Gilded Age, he takes us across the Atlantic — time travelling back to 1882, flinging open the shutters on the grand mansions that lined the Upper West Side of New York’s Fifth Avenue

Old money, old families, ambitious arrivistes, shenanigans on all floors … must be a new Julian Fellowes drama. However, for The Gilded Age, he takes us across the Atlantic — time travelling back to 1882, flinging open the shutters on the grand mansions that lined the Upper West Side of New York’s Fifth Avenue

There are all manner of intrigues in the plot, most involving Jacobson’s Marion and Denee Benton as her friend Peggy Scott. 

The story also spins around merciless magnate George Russell (Morgan Spector) and his avaricious wife Bertha (Carrie Coon). Their graduate son Larry is played by Harry Richardson — Drake Carne in Poldark. And Taissa Farmiga has a key role as daughter Gladys.

Fellowes, fellow production executive Gareth Neame and their team gathered a sublime ensemble that includes the crème de la crème of Broadway. As I viewed the first five episodes (of the nine-part first season), I spotted Audra McDonald, Kelli O’Hara, Nathan Lane and Katie Finneran, people I’ve watched on the New York stage for years.

Jeanne Tripplehorn and Bill Irwin are in the company, too. Let’s hope HBO books a second season.

The Gilded Age will be on Sky Atlantic and NOW from January 25.

Fellowes, fellow production executive Gareth Neame and their team gathered a sublime ensemble that includes the crème de la crème of Broadway

Fellowes, fellow production executive Gareth Neame and their team gathered a sublime ensemble that includes the crème de la crème of Broadway

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