Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy TV Poster Image

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy



Sophisticated spy thriller full of intrigue, some violence.
  • Network: PBS
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1979

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The atmosphere depicted in the series is one where intelligence and cunning are prized, as is loyalty to one's country. However, there are also elements of deception and violence that are fundamental to the lives of these spies.

Positive role models

Although the characters demonstrate an extremely high level of education and are ultimately tasked with helping their country, the tactics they use are built on a foundation of manipulation and deceit.


The show deals in violence usually as an act of last resort, with occasional fisticuffs or threats of more serious attack. Very little actual blood or graphic violence.


Occasional mild innuendo and references to love affairs, but very little onscreen romantic activity.


Occasional "damn" and "hell," as well as the British slang term "bloody."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Frequent period smoking by both primary and secondary characters; social drinking with occasional conversational reference to overindulgence in alcohol.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this BBC spy miniseries is full of sophisticated dialogue and a twisting, intricate plot. Although the show's violence is relatively tame compared to modern standards (and the theatrical version), the plotting and characterization will make this series interesting only to teens with the patience to pay close attention and follow the events. The show is not based on any historical elements but there could be an educational opportunity for teens interested in learning more about the political environment of the cold war and the role of espionage in world politics.

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

The hero of several of author John Le Carre's spy thrillers makes his move to television via the 1979 BBC adaptation of TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY. Former operative George Smiley (Alec Guinness) is coaxed out of retirement after it's discovered that there may be a Russian agent working at the highest levels of British intelligence. One of four senior figures are suspected, and it's Smiley's task to methodically comb through available information to slowly, carefully uncover the threat buried deep within the British government. The unraveling of the mystery ultimately revolves around a failed operation in Budapest and the cold, determined advance of Smiley's mastery of espionage.

Is it any good?


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is perhaps one of the finest examples of the BBC's ability to cast remarkable talent in dramatic productions that rival any contemporary theatrical work.

Here it's Alec Guinness who steals the show, a cold and ever-vigilant spy among spies, who says more with the raise of an eyebrow than many actors can in three-minute monologues. His George Smiley is an amazing creation and he inhabits a world of quiet, sinister intrigue, where men in long trenchcoats slip in and out of buildings via back staircases to avoid detection by suspected adversaries. Compared to the typical pulse-pounding spy series of today, Tinker, Tailor is certainly a throwback, but in the best possible way. It's a warm bath full of mildly corrosive acid that demands attention and earns admiration.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what kind of messages a show like this sends. What kind of world does it depict? Is it a realistic one?

  • Are there any contemporary news stories that resemble the events of the film?

TV details

Premiere date:September 10, 1979
Cast:Alec Guinness, Ian Richardson, Patrick Stewart
TV rating:NR
Available on:DVD

This review of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

  • Madcap, classic sketch comedy with adult themes.
  • Dark, bloody, but excellent British crime drama.
  • Excellent British cop series with blood and some intimacy.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 16 years old Written byjohnnysaw January 19, 2013

good film

Good movie but plot is a bit confusing. There is not a ton of violence throughout the movie but definitely some. Smiley is a good role model since he is trying fight for his country. He can be a jerk at some parts but thats just to get stuff done. There is a scene in part 2 where a couplr is lying in bed naked nothing is tscene except the man tries to kiss the lady. She gets up and for a brief second you can see the top of her butt. I recommend this to anyone who like spy movies.
What other families should know
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?