The BBC’s recent version of The Night Manager has been much talked about, and for good reason. Based on the John le Carré novel of the same name (the pseudonym of the author behind espionage classics like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold), the broad plot concerns a new recruit of the British intelligence services with a international employment history, Jonathan Pine, attempting to bring down a major international arms dealer, Richard Roper, described by pivotal character Sophie as “the worst man in the world”. The Night Manager is great television, and the BBC has done it again. So why should you be watching The Night Manager?
Hiddleston’s turn as a man both assured of himself and completely out of his depth simultaneously is great to watch.
Danish and Oscar-winning director Susanne Bier helms the project, and her direction is fabulous – the miniseries doesn’t have a made-for-TV feel at all, and this is due in no small part to the cinematography and physical technicalities of the series – the set design and lighting, for example, are excellent. This is of course helped by the all-star cast – Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, Tom Hollander and Elizabeth Debicki being the most well-known, but there are many recognisable faces in the minor cast too. This adds to the more cinematic, post-Sherlock-BBC-series feel the show has, and the acting is top notch on top of this. Hiddleston’s turn as a man both assured of himself and completely out of his depth simultaneously is great to watch, and Olivia Colman is terrific as always. Interestingly, Colman’s role as Burr was originally a male one in the original novel, but much in the same way as the other deviations from the source material, it works brilliantly. The writers may even have referenced this tongue-in-cheekily when Colman’s Angela Burr learns of a colleague’s membership of a golf club that still doesn’t allow women “Have a good time, I heard the food’s shit”. Colman carries it off with such confidence and punch that the viewer can’t help but love her.
But perhaps the best quote so far comes from Hugh Laurie’s turn as main villain of the piece Richard Onslow Roper. On flying two helicopters presumably cross-border to get to a hotel in Switzerland; “It’s so pleasing to wake up the fucking Germans”. Laurie plays Roper as a slimily charming, darkly charismatic man, with an even darker routine and philosophy behind this. Indeed the series likes to remind the audience of the various hypocrisies of the international arms trade, and this is to its credit, not least because of its resonance today with the UK’s government’s somewhat questionable stance on the Saudi regime (to put it lightly), for example. Indeed though the original novel was written after the Cold War, it was still published over two decades ago in 1993. As such, this adaptation updates and changes certain elements of the plot – one of the most notable examples of this being the inclusion of the Arab Spring, which gives the series an even more relatable and interesting strand to explore. Part of John le Carré’s headline from an article he wrote in The Guardian sums up the bulk of these changes, and it goes as follows “they’ve totally changed my book – but it works”.
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It’s also easy to see why many think Hiddleston could one day be the next, or a James Bond, and just in his gait alone this is clear. But make no mistake, Hiddleston’s character, at least in the novel (like many of the other le Carré protagonists), is very much an anti-Bond. The series seems to be heading down a marginally different path to this when compared le Carré’s other ‘silent heroes’, such as George Smiley from Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, but this hasn’t yet affected the quality of the drama, and in what will only amount to six episodes in total, a little rushing around and doing the jumpy punchy hitty shooty thing is forgiven – not least because the drama around these moments is just so good. Perhaps the most Bond-esque element of the programme is the soundtrack, mixed in with the brooding and inventive title sequence. Nonetheless, comparisons can be made, both positive and negative – though, thankfully, mostly positive.
It’s all in the detail; the gestures, the eye movements, the subtleties.
Tom Hollander also stands out from the crowd as one of Roper’s right hand men. Assured of his superiority and position, Hollander’s Corcoran is nothing short of vile. In a brilliant scene in the Zurich hotel (indeed this whole second half is the standout section of the first episode), he whistles to get Pine’s attention, before pointing at the ground in front of him to gesture to him to come over, before talking shallowly about women and patronising Pine all at the same time. The writing is a big part of this of course, but the performances bring this to life with authenticity, and with that added spark that translates great scripts to great TV.
It’s all in the detail; the gestures, the eye movements, the subtleties. All of this is well realised on a technical level too, making this a truly worthy adaptation of one of the most underrated John le Carré novels out there. The Night Manager’s remaining episodes air on Sunday nights at 9pm on BBC One, with past episodes available on iPlayer.
By Oliver Rowe