Franchise talk as ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ rules UK box office

You may recall a slight disagreement between Kris and Anne Thompson in last week’s episode of Oscar Talk over the awards potential of Tomas Alfredson’s acclaimed “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” Anne thinks the film too low-key to make much of a dent in the season; Kris, on the other hand, expects it to befit substantially from the British vote, given that they, in his words, “haven’t much else to work with this year.”

I’ve been following Kris’ logic — sight unseen, it’s hard to imagine UK hopefuls “The Iron Lady” and “My Week With Marilyn” generating an equivalent level of critical esteem for Best Picture purposes. But what surely seals the highbrow espionage thriller’s status as this year’s prime Brit pony is its astonishing performance at the UK box office — it held the top spot for the second week running on Sunday, fending off new releases “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “Warrior” and “Drive,” bringing its total haul to £6.9million.

I’m no box office guru, but for the sake of comparison, that’s more than another, more heavily hyped UK prestige pic based on a beloved bestseller, “One Day,” has made in its month-long run. Not bad going for a somber, cerebral period piece whose biggest audience draw, Colin Firth, features only in a modest (and modestly advertised) supporting role.

It’s never going to be a “King’s Speech” scale blockbuster, but this robust, expectation-exceeding commercial success effectively gives UK distributor Optimum the green light for a major BAFTA push that will likely be rewarded with a major haul of nominations. Meanwhile, this all translates into strong buzz ahead of the film’s US release in December — it’ll inevitably be more of a niche item there (widespread public affection for the original John le Carré novel and miniseries brought out the powerful middle-aged market in Britain), but it’ll still arrive with an aura of success the studio will be keen to impress upon Oscar voters.

Meanwhile, the film’s popularity only adds fuel to the fire regarding talk of a sequel (or two). “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is, of course, only the first book in Le Carré’s Karla Trilogy, which further trace the Soviet-chasing travails of the George Smiley character played by Gary Oldman in Alfredson’s film. The remaining two, “The Honorable Schoolboy” (where Smiley takes a secondary role to journalist Jerry Westerby) and “Smiley’s People” have yet to be brought to the big screen, though the latter was, like “Tinker, Tailor,” adapted for TV with Alec Guinness.

That could be about to change. The Guardian’s Jason Solomons reports that European outfit StudioCanal, who financed Alfredson’s film, are interested in turning the Le Carré trilogy into a film franchise — and that an official announcement could be made as early as this week. Again speaking to Solomons, Oldman bolsters the rumors by stating his willingness to reprise the Smiley role — but only if Alfredson directs any future films in the series. Given what a stellar job the Swedish director has done on the first, that doesn’t seem like much to ask.

Oli Lyttelton at The Playlist, meanwhile, digs up another quote from Oldman on the matter, this time in an Empire webchat. There, he states his belief that the likeliest course of adaptation is for the studio to amalgamate “Smiley’s People” and “The Honorable Schoolboy” into a single script — largely because the latter’s focus on the Westerby character is a shift that likely also prevented a BBC adaptation of the novel. (Stephen Graham did a fine job as Westerby in Alfredson’s film, but it’s hard to imagine him headlining a sequel.) Exciting news, either way: consider this advance notice for those flummoxed by the first film to hit the books.