Richard Burton, more intensely sad than I’ve ever seen him, is a spymaster-turned-spy, quitting British intelligence and hanging out with cute librarian Claire Bloom (The Haunting), but actually getting coached by Smiley (“just continue to be embittered, continue to drink”) in the hopes of being picked up by the Germans.

Took me a while to realize that they’d crossed into Germany. It’s established that Burton is fluent in German, but nobody speaks German in the movie, and even accents are rare… they simply keep speaking English, asking the viewer to imagine that it’s German. On the other side, the East Germans all act like they know Burton’s whole deal, but they’re plotting against each other and Burton intends to inflame their rivalry. Oskar “Jules” Werner is the black leather cap-wearing ambitious second in command to 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse star Peter van Eyck. As power and loyalties shift, I’m not sure that even Burton knows if the plot has gone off the rails, but apparently free and victorious at the end, he gets himself killed over the girl, leaving Smiley (Rupert Davies) and Control (Cyril Cusack, pathetic husband in Gone to Earth) needing to find a new sad drunken spy.

Basically a Richard Burton heaven-and-hell monologue, plus a few conversations with baldy Andreas Teuber as Mephistophilis, some fleeting glimpses of Liz Taylor, and one fart-joke scene. Idiot Faustus, supposedly a scientist with a thirst for more knowledge though we never see anything scholarly beyond some lab equipment in the first scenes, signs a deal with the devil – his soul in exchange for all the power and riches he wants for the next 24 years. But Faustus (who speaks his own name roughly twice per sentence, lest we forget it) doesn’t want to be king, he wants only to impress the current king with his magic tricks. We don’t know what other powers he has or desires, since he seems to spend all 24 years fretting about the bargain he made instead of enjoying it, being tormented by angel voices emanating from a cool arrow-pierced mannequin in his lab. Sounds like theater but it looks like a proper film, full of cool effects and dissolves.

Cool adaptation, with fine visuals by Radford (Il Postino) and the great Roger Deakins (pre-Coens), and a wonderful John Hurt performance. Hurt is not killed at the end (at least not explicitly), and the phrase “Big Brother is watching” never appears. Surprisingly good/subtle musical score by Eurythmics, which the director hated. Hmmm, or is it subtle because we heard the Dominic Muldowney score instead? Watched on netflix, so it’s hard to tell.

Hurt (in The Hit the same year), a government newspaper revisionist, falls for Suzanna Hamilton (of the Sting version of Brimstone & Treacle), dreams of escaping control of the party and finding a place where love is still possible. Richard Burton (of Exorcist II, argh) is on to their plan, and subjects Hurt to torture until he comes to truly love Big Brother. Katy didn’t much like it, putting a damper on the beginning of Dystopia Month.