Synopsis – A night manager of an Egyptian hotel is recruited by intelligence agents to infiltrate an international arms dealer’s network.
Episodes – S01E01 to S01E06
My Take – Being a huge fan of the spy genre, I had to check out BBC‘s most expensive productions ever, which apparently cost in a cool £18million for the six episodes. Most importantly while, producers and studio execs are busy floating rough ideas based on comics (even though I love them) and remakes for the big screen that appeal to the lucrative movie-going market demographics, TV is still reeling in the golden age accolades for good reason, as the intricate storytelling is playing out more on the small screen these days. Based on author John Le Carré‘s book of the same name, the mini series plays out more like a Bond film without the action and the cool gadgets, while giving us good reasons why Tom Hiddleston would be a perfect choice to take up the mantle after Daniel Craig‘s departure. So, with an eminent BBC production backing, a bunch of ‘A’ list British actors in the lead roles, and with Le Carré himself on board in an advisory capacity – what could go wrong? Nothing could and nothing did. Suave, confident and sexy, the mini series offers a spy thriller from an interesting perspective, the hotelier’s. Often neglected and barely visible, it’s quite the dynamic take on a thriller protagonist. This is a series that draws in the viewer into a very intriguing world, from the get go. The second the series starts, you are immediately captivated by whats going on screen, and even though you have known characters for barely minutes you find yourself either rooting for them or loathing them. You care for the characters and above all you can’t wait to find out what happens next. That is the target of any show, especially thrillers. If the viewer doesn’t want to eagerly know whats in store for the characters in the story, then the show fails.
The story follows Johnathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), an ex-army officer who works as a night manager in a prestigious Hotel in Cairo. His life changes the day he becomes embroiled with a classy Egyptian prostitute Sophie Alekan (Aure Atika) of a young, influential Egyptian rich kid who is involved in the illegal arms trade with Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), an English billionaire. The young lady passes on information about these illegal deals to Johnathan and gets mercilessly killed for her efforts. Fearing for his own life, Pine flees, ending up working at a remote hotel in Switzerland. Two years later, Roper visits the same Swiss hotel thus rekindling Pines thirst for revenge and is subsequently co-opted by a British Intelligence unit led by Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) to go after Roper. What follows is a very dangerous game of intrigue and deception. This sets up the remainder of the story. Pine goes undercover in Dicky Roper’s criminal organization, and reports back to the intelligence unit in London. The British spooks who recruited Pine are also fighting their own corrupt bosses and they set out – against all odds – to nail the villains and stop a major illegal arms shipment. I’ve not read the John LeCarre novel, but right from the start was gripped by this involving tale of skulduggery in high places revolving around the at face value charismatic billionaire humanitarian Richard Roper, who in reality is a cynical criminal mastermind supplying arms to the highest foreign bidder, with a luxurious lifestyle and entourage in tow. Over six exciting episodes, the drama plays out over a variety of locations including Egypt, London, Switzerland, Spain, Paris and present-day, war-torn Syria, the latter of course adding up-to-the-minute topicality to the tale. The locations are absolutely stunning, from the high-end luxury which Roper enjoys in top restaurants, holiday villas, private jets and naturally only the best hotels, contrasted with the sparse, cold office of Colman and her team to the recreation of a refugee shanty-town in Syria. By a brilliantly conceived fake kidnap plot concerning Roper’s son, Pine inveigles himself into Roper’s network to become his right-hand man and so reach the position where he can execute Colman’s plan to take him down. Of course for such a complicated plot to work, the long arm of coincidence has to come into play for which the viewer has to suspend some disbelief as the handsome, debonair Pine gets two women inextricably linked with big-time criminals to fall for him (and vice- versa), plus he has a series of skin-of-his-teeth near-misses as his cover threatens to be blown, but all’s fair in love and the dirty-war, so best just to go along with the ride as the story arcs to its nail-biting finish.
There’s also one delightful comic moment for fans of Hugh Laurie in “Black Adder” episode just as he meets his downfall. However, written in the 90’s, the novel was Le Carré‘s first post-cold war novel, and the minutiae of the plot creaks with age as the producers try to update it to become a 21st-century tale. There are several elements of the plot which don’t work well in 2016; such as Pine’s use of a stolen mobile phone to send messages to British Intelligence. There are also later uses of mobile phones by Pine, his illicit lover and his colleagues back in London which simply wouldn’t happen into today’s tech-savvy world. A billionaire arms dealer like Roper would have had all manner of technical protections and listening devices that would have alerted him of such goings on in his house. Both Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie carry themselves well, it’s a delight to see them trade banters in TV miniseries and hopefully soon on the big screen. Tom Hiddleston in the titular role does an excellent job. As I mentioned before, Hiddleston surely marks himself out as a potential candidate to replace Daniel Craig as 007 with an assured, credible performance as the inside man moving in high places but quite prepared to ruthlessly maim and murder to maintain his position. Hugh Laurie too is excellent as the suave but ruthless Roper, believing right up to the end that his status and riches can protect him from any form of harm. He makes this unpleasant character entirely believable. Olivia Colman is characteristically convincing as Roper’s down-to-earth very pregnant but determined pursuer. Elizabeth Debicki stands out as Jed; a beautiful but vulnerable character and Tom Hollander is delightfully unpleasant as Major ‘Corky’ Corkoran. David Harewood is alright. The ending was gripping, with several key characters in danger; it also wraps up the story without making a further season impossible, which is good as there is already talk of a second season. On the whole, ‘The Night Manager’ is a stylish, high-end thriller enriched by strong characterizations, excellent acting and slick direction which will certainly make you glad that you checked in for the six-hour stay.
Directed – Susanne Bier
Status – Season 1 (Completed)
Network – BBC One, AMC