The setting is the exquisite Bolshoi Ballet. Carlos Acosta leaps impossibly long and high, caught in slow action. The audience bursts into applause, and as the curtain falls a group of beautifully gowned women leave, presenting a picture of privilege and tradition.
In a back-stage room Misha (Rasha Bukvic) signs a sheaf of papers and hands them to Petrov (the "Prince") and his consigliore. He is presented with an antique gun in a presentation case.
Cut to the family driving away in their Mercedes. But what looks like a routine check-point in a snow covered forest turns out to be where they are gunned down with cold impersonal professionalism. The Prince prefers there to be no loose ends.
And this is a leit-motif of the film – the contrast between the surface sophistication and apparent conservative values of the British establishment with their underlying cynical ruthless pragmatism.
Highlighting that contrast is a young couple whom we meet having dinner in Marrakech. Perry (a British academic) and Gail (a lawyer) are on holiday, trying to rescue their marriage following Perry's short-lived "fling" with a student.
They encounter Dima (Stellan Skarsgard) a massive force of nature, who bets Perry that he cannot remember Perry's credit card number after one glance. He can, and on the strength of his win insists that Perry joins him in a great-Gatsby like party to celebrate his daughter's birthday. When Perry sees a woman being assaulted by a huge naked tatooded man he acts instinctively to defend her, and survives through Dima exerting his authority.
Dima befriends Perry and Gail, who meet his family, and young twins whom we later learn to be the survivors of the massacred family. Soon Dima confides that he has been a money-launderer for the Mafia in Russia, but that the new regime, led by the Prince, will force him to sign over his interests, and then will assassinate him and his family unless Perry passes over information on a memory stick to MI6 in exchange for being places in a witness protection program.
From this point Perry and Gail become enmeshed in the cynical web of intrigue that is the British establishment. They are willing to risk a great deal to ensure the survival of the young family. The establishment weigh the benefits of a new bank being established in London to attract massive investments from Moscow against gaining information which could uphold the law but put the money at risk.
The story tracks rapidly through 90 sets, and through London, Marrakech, Paris, Bern and the French Alps, capturing (as the program notes say) a very British fascination with espionage, double dealing and Britain's place in the world.
I hope" says the director "it will make people think of the kind of world we live in".
This is an edge-of-the seat movie of plot and counter plot, with superb cinematography and special effects. The acting is wonderful throughout, and we end up caring very much what happens to Perry and Gail and Dima's family, as well as being chilled by the real-politic lying under the mannered surface of British diplomacy and business.
As with all of John le Carré's writing, we have much more than a thriller.
We have a devastating insight into an amoral world, where a brutal calculus rules supreme.
And we are left with the choice as to whether Dima or the functionaries of MI6 are "our kinds of traitor".