04 March 2016

Why You Should Be Watching... The Night Manager

Words by Tom Newsom

The first thing that strikes you is the sheer class coming out of your screen. Not just in the cast (Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, Tom Hollander... why aren’t you watching it yet?) but it’s in the production values, the large budget, the sweeping helicopters and locations and stunts. It’s gripping TV, on a Sunday night on BBC One of all places.

The opening titles is a feast of imagery from hotels and weaponry, giving you a strong indication of the plot to come, and then we get to the five star hotel itself, where our sharp suited hero meets a glamorous woman guest and oh lord it’s like James Bond isn’t it?

The Night Manager is based a book by John Le Carré, who as far as I know has never tried to imitate James Bond. The show is almost a reply to the recent Bond films, almost as Le Carré’s famous George Smiley and Cold War-set novels were an antidote to the unrealistic, uninvolved spy stories of the Sixties and before. Here we have a British - almost too British - ordinary man, Jonathan Pine, dealing with the real pressures and consequences of spying; with a realistic, filthy rich bad guy in Hugh Laurie’s ‘Dicky’ Roper, the arms dealer, who’s not as one-sided as you’d expect either. Plus there’s the obvious point of main man Pine’s attraction and respect of women. Buried in the layers of character that are built up gradually, you get the impression that his motives are based on politeness, decency - yes, almost too British here.

And of course, no car chases, at least not yet. Currently two episodes in, I personally was surprised how vast the plot was, though more accessible and pleasingly streamlined than some other John Le Carré I’ve seen - this is a thriller in every sense. It takes unexpected turns - not knowing anything at all about it, I didn’t know where it was going, and it’s most probably better that way. And I found the second episode a very different tone to the first, as we go deeper into the story. It certainly looks like it will use its six hour running time very wisely, offering us a real assortment of locations - Switzerland, London, Mallorca, Cairo. The last one - partly setting the story in real events, just in the 2011 uprising, makes it feel bold and bang up to date, like the production itself. However the original book was published twenty five years ago; from interviewers with the screenwriter and director, it appears that they’ve made some important changes, although some of these were suggested by Le Carré himself when they met with him!

That director being notable, award winning Danish film director Susanne Bier, and screenwriter of Hanna and Spooks alumni (sit up straight, Spooks fans) David Farr. It’s an BBC/AMC co-production, its attracted top drawer talent even to the minor parts (David Harewood!) and those rare to TV. Tom Hiddleston makes an obvious smooth hero, but Hugh Laurie as the worst man in the world is fantastic. There’s your reason to watch right there.

Words by Tom Newsom

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