Gary Oldman has one of the most versatile resumes of any actor in history, he has created memorable characters with chameleonic flair. He has also gave enjoyably broad performances in the slums of the Hollywood blockbuster.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy marks his great return to character acting with the role of George Smiley, MI6 spy returning from forced retirement to uncover a Soviet mole. Oldman completely immerses himself in the role, adopting a unique cadence which, along with the make-up, hair, costume design, he is almost unrecognisable. Smiley is man of discipline and cunning, rarely giving anything away, it is a brilliantly subtle performance and unlikely to catch the attention of the Academy which favours histrionics and eccentricity over understatement.

The support is reliably marvelous, making us of some of the finest British actors working today with highlights from Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth and Mark Strong. These are men who are adept at deception on national and personal levels, layering on subtle depth to these professional tricksters.The cast play to this with subtlety, Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan’s understated script allowing ample room for a silent glance to say everything a monologue could.

John Le Carre’s 1974 novel was previously adapted into a seven part BBC mini series; you would think condensing such a long story would lead a two-hour film to develop a hurried pace. This is not the case at all; using multiple character perspectives and flashbacks to create a low-key yet epic scaled story of Cold War espionage.

Tomas Alfredson, along with Let the Right One In editor Dino Jonsäter, constructed a film that is at times brisk, and others more considered, knowing when a scene requires a steady flow of shots to build or when a scene should have room to breathe. The densely plotted story is constantly moving, yet it has a pace and atmosphere as calm and deliberate as George Smiley himself. The film moves at a speed far closer to a classical film than more contemporary thrillers; something I expect younger or less experienced cinema goers to struggle with, despite being a rewarding experience to those who can pay attention.

Alrfedson proved himself to be a considerable visual stylist with his vampire masterpiece, and his work with regular collaborator Hoyte Van Hoytema is a continuation of that. The film is loaded with stunningly precise compositions, that may appear a little clinical and emotionally distant, but they are a treat on the eyes. My only real complaint about the film would be levelled at Oscar-nominee Alberto Iglesias’ score, which sounded more like the backing track to a modest TV movie and not an elaborate prestige picture.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy kicks off the awards season race with a formidable entry. It may be a little too cold and calculated for some, but if you enjoy classic “traditionally” paced spy thrillers from the ’60s and ’70s, this will be a must and a sure contender for any end of year lists.