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The Night Manager: Episode 1 - Review

The Night Manager

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

IF YOU thought that John le Carré’s novels had a tendency to veer towards the more densely plotted and talky – a la Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or A Most Wanted Man – then the BBC’s adaptation of The Night Manager might just make you think again.

On the evidence of this first episode out of six, this radical revamp has sexed things up and opted for a look and feel that Ian Fleming may be more comfortable with watching. That’s not to say that the intellectual element has been discarded.

The Night Manager remains the sort of TV that you need to pay close attention to. But it’s crucially not impenetrable [yet]. And it’s so far more fast-moving than some of le Carre’s film adaptations.

Tom Hiddleston heads the cast as former British soldier Jonathan Pine, first seen serving as the night manager of a plush Cairo hotel in the middle of the Arab spring of January 2011. Unflustered by the surrounding violence, Pine’s calm is eventually broken when a beautiful woman called Sophie Aleka flashes some covert documents at him that reveal an imminent arms deal involving her wicked boyfriend, Freddie Hamid, and another man, Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie).

Fearful that the deal could upset the popular uprising and lead to widespread pain and suffering, Pine gets in touch with MI6 who – in turn – seize upon the opportunity to take down Roper, using Pine as their man in Cairo (so to speak).

But things become complicated by Pine’s romantic involvement with Aleka and several behind-the-scenes double crosses that lead to Aleka’s death and Roper’s escape. It’s only years later that Pine gets another shot at righting the wrongs of Cairo, when Roper and his new entourage show up at the latest hotel he is minding, in Switzerland.

If episode one of The Night Manager was largely a scene-setter, it nevertheless remained compelling viewing. Hiddleston, as ever, provided a mesmerising presence – one that combined scorching sex appeal (of the 007 variety) with a brooding intensity befitting his high stakes situation. He is unquestionably a man of honour who is compelled to do the right thing, yet frustrated by the failings of those around him. And it should be exciting to see how he gets out in front as the spearhead of the effort to bring Roper down.

Laurie, meanwhile, is suitably grotesque [even sleazy] as the arms dealing big bad. Admittedly deprived of any notable screen-time in which to offer any layering [or shades of grey], he nevertheless quickly positioned himself as a worthy adversary for Pine and someone we’re sure going to love to hate.

Olivia Colman offers trademark sass, quick wit and scepticism as an intelligence operative hell-bent on catching Roper, while Tom Hollander is as acerbic as ever as Roper’s associate. Both surely have much bigger roles to play but their presence alone merely adds to the overall quality of proceedings.

And that’s not forgetting Susanne Bier’s stylish direction. This looks sexy but feels dangerous: two elements that make for compelling bedfellows when dealing with any spy game.

Questions abound, of course. But on the evidence so far, The Night Manager looks set to become essential Sunday night viewing.