By David Hiltbrand
Updated October 14, 1991 12:00 PM

PBS (Sun., Oct. 13, 9 P.M. ET)


The season opener for Masterpiece Theatre, John le Carré’s adaptation of his own novel is a double shock. First, it features Denholm Elliott playing one of le Carré’s best-loved characters, spymaster George Smiley, a role long and memorably associated with Alec Guinness. Second, this Smiley isn’t into espionage; while on sabbatical from British intelligence, he is talked by a former colleague (Glenda Jackson) into investigating a murder at a public school.

It’s a tough adjustment watching a strange man playing a familiar character in unusual circumstances. But the transition is made easier by Gavin Millar’s tightly woven direction and a fine cast, including Ronald Pickup, Matthew Scurfield, David Threlfall and Joss Ackland (also seen this week as Aristotle Onassis in A Woman Named Jackie). The mystery, which concludes the following Sunday, is full of quirky British pleasures. When, for instance, was the last time you heard a badger joke? (Wisconsin football fans, don’t answer that.)