It’s been over a year since I heard that an adaptation of The Night Manager had officially been given the green light. First published twenty three years ago, John Le Carre’s first post-Cold War novel had been tipped for the big screen many times before, including interest from Brad Pitt, yet plans have always fallen through. Fitting everything from the novel into a feature length production was always the main problem, there was simply too much to cram in to a ninety-or-so minute film. Finally it was the production company The Ink Factory, run by Le Carre’s sons nonetheless, who finally got the scripts together to turn The Night Manager into a television drama. With BBC and AMC both on board as fellow co-producers, the green light was glowing brightly.
The first episode follows Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), a former British Soldier turned night manager for a luxury hotel during the Arab Spring uprisings. Striking up a relationship with Sophie Alekan (Aure Atika), the mistress of Arab arms dealer Freddie Hamid (David Avery), Pine stumbles across incriminating evidence that ties Hamid with an even more prolific arms dealer, British born Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie).
With two of the world’s best producers of television drama joining forces, The Night Manager was always going to be magnificent. The first thing that jumps out is how visually stunning the show is. From the interior of the hotels to the snowy Swiss Alps, everything is absolutely beautiful. A stand out scene is while Pine is enjoying a cigarette in the desolation of the mountains, the stars and the lighting of the snow is absolutely breathtaking. I think you’d actually be forgiven for thinking that The Night Manager is a Hollywood feature from the way it’s been shot. The very fact that this is simply a television drama is pretty ridiculous as it’s basically a six hour long film, there is absolutely nothing about it that even screams TV.
First of all, can we all just agree that the title sequence was actually made for a James Bond film? All that’s missing is Daniel Craig strutting on for his gun barrel sequence, and after watching this opening episode I can totally see Tom Hiddleston taking over from Craig. His character Pine oozes innocence while keeping an aura of suave and sophistication. While the world of espionage and murder doesn’t yet come naturally to him, his confidence and want for revenge pushes him deeper into the corruption. Hiddleston is pretty much perfect casting for Pine, bringing everything required for the role with such ease you’d think that the character was written for him. His stand out moment from the first episode is when discovering the lifeless body of Sophie, this is where he really flexes his acting muscles. Hiddleston is phenomenal, acting in such a way you’d be forgiven for thinking that he actually had just walked in to find the body of a lover. The emotion portrayed will certainly pull on your heartstrings and I fully believe this is one of the best pieces of acting Hiddleston has ever produced.
Laurie, a self confessed devoted admirer of Le Carre, was immediately interested in being a part of the adaptation. During a Q&A after a screening of the first episode, Laurie stated: “I’ve always believed this story was irresistibly romantic and noble and stirring and thrilling and important… when the possibility of actually putting this on the screen in any form came up I fell on it like a starving man because I would have done anything to be in any capacity apart of this.” Taking the role of Roper,“the worst man in the world”, Laurie, and Hiddleston, signed on as executive producer and added,“turns out I was absolutely pathetic at it!” I for one am so thankful Laurie was such a fan of the original novel. Despite him always wanting to play the role of Pine (unfortunately this adaptation came over twenty years too late for him), Laurie instead settled to play Roper. The character is deliciously bad in such a loving way. You want to like him and you desperately want to hang out with him and be part of his entourage, but at the same time he is undertaking in unspeakable acts of terrorism, and Laurie is perfect at playing this unnerving role. Putting on a substantially posher accent than his native, his ability to come across likeable whilst leaving an undeniable unease to every situation is incredible. No one could play this role better.
The undisputed Queen of TV drama, Olivia Colman, once again barely steps a foot out of line. Playing Intelligence Officer Burr, a character who was originally male in the novel, Colman brings the strength and trust that the role so requires. A major player in trying to take down Roper, Burr is the first person to take real action after receiving a copy of the incriminating evidence Pine has found. The role of Burr very nearly didn’t go to Colman however, who in the lead up to casting discovered she was pregnant. During the Q&A director Susanne Bier was quick to come to Colman’s defence, “To be perfectly honest I did immediately think it was a fantastic advantage because, Burr sort of being the moral heart of the piece, it certainly adds to hervulnerability being pregnant and I don’t think any of the producers actually disagree, the insurance company were a bit concerned though,” with Colman quickly adding, “it was like no one had been pregnant ever before!” The fact that Burr is now a woman and pregnant definitely adds to Colman’s character, bringing a motherly and homely figure to the somewhat tender-less world of crime.
There are a few fairly famous faces who play smaller roles in this first episode. Firstly, Tom Hollander who plays the king of one liners (“well I adore it and I’m bloody sophisticated,” ) Roper’s right hand man Corcoran (Corky). Speaking about the role Hollander says that, “Without spoiling it, Corkysuspects Pine in a way that no one else does and partly that’s because Pine threatens his friendship with Roper, and in a way that’s sort of a broken love story… he wants to protect him and their friendship and wants to protect their world which we’re all conflicted about… in watching it we are all somehow morally conflicted because of course Roper’s world is very seductive even though it’s very clear that it’s evil and Corky is long since lost in that world but he’s trying to preserve the kingdom, their little island.” And what a seductive world it is. From champagne baths to helicopter rides to the middle of nowhere, if it wasn’t for the whole ‘being an arms dealer and therefore a bad guy’ thing I’d be in that business immediately. Russell Tovey is another actor who impresses, playing a friend of Pine’s at the British Embassy in Cairo while future episodes will feature David Harewood, Katherine Kelly and Neil Morrissey.
Taking the role of Roper’s girlfriend Jed is new-ish-comer Elizabeth Debicki. The Australian actress has had recent success in films such as Macbeth andThe Man from U.N.C.L.E, I daresay The Night Manager is what is going to put her on the map. Despite only seeing her for a short amount of time in the first episode, Debicki has already nearly stolen the show for me. After being treated to the first part of the second episode, Jed is more than what she first seems and I’m intrigued to see the character’s progression. On a personal level I can’t help but express how excited I am that Debicki was cast in such a major role. At six foot three she stands only an inch taller than myself, and alongside Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones’ Brianne of Tarth, also 6ft3) they’re paving the way for taller, stronger women in film and television and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
My only niggle with this episode is the use of sex in order to progress the plot and make the character of Pine emotionally more involved in the story. Having never read the novel (it’s now on my list!) I’ve no idea if this is the way it’s originally written, but for me the chemistry displayed between Pine and Sophie before her death was never sexual or even that emotional on Pine’s level. In fact I could never see a moment in which Pine wanted her in any other way than merely looking after her as a guest at the hotel, which may be a comment on Hiddleston’s acting (say it ain’t so!) or just the progression of the story. Either way, this plot device annoyed me as it’s clearly only used so that Pine would be deeply involved in future events. But surely there could have been another way to do this? The relationship between them could have been closer and frankly more realistic, or did we really even need their relationship in order to progress the plot further? Pine already had evidence against Roper, would just that be enough to motivate him further? Despite my problem with this, it’s the only single negative I can come up with for The Night Manager, and for me that’s pretty good going for a television drama.
After coming out of the screening I tweeted that I thought The Night Manager would be the best show of 2016 and I still stand by it. With a ridiculously phenomenal cast and the companies that are behind it, I can’t see how anything lined up for this year can beat it. This is what happens when you bring the makers of Sherlock, Doctor Foster and Doctor Who and allow them to collaborate with the team behind Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Walking Dead –you get world class drama. With five more episodes left to go I simply cannot wait to watch the rest and I’m sure millions of viewers are going to agree with me. If this is going to be the new standard for British TV drama for the future then we’re in for an exciting time indeed.
The Night Manager Continues Sunday at 9.00pm on BBC One.
Contributed by Kay Dekker