John Le Carré (nee David Cornwell) has established himself as a mastery of literary intrigue. After a career with stints at MI5 (British domestic intelligence) and MI6 (foreign intelligence), he began channeling his experiences and taking on current events in novels such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Constant Gardener, and The Tailor of Panama. The Night Manager, first published in 1993, is not the first collaboration between the BBC and Le Carré. Back in 1979 they colluded on an adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Featuring Alec Guinness as George Smiley, an agent brought out of retirement to identify a mole at the top of British intelligence, it was a resounding success and still is magnificent upon rewatch today (the 2011 film with Gary Oldman is also outstanding). After captivating audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, the TV hit The Night Manager is now available on home video.
Tom Hiddleston plays Jonathan Pine, the night manager of a hotel in Cairo. He becomes close to one of the guests, a woman named Sophie (Aure Atika), who is the mistress of a local criminal. Pine is taken into her trust over her possession of some documents offering insight into illicit arms deals. Using contacts from his former career in the British army, he passes them on, with tragic consequences. Implicated in the dealings is well known businessman and philanthropist Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), who has been under investigation by MI6 operative Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) for over a decade. Sensing a way to finally get the evidence she needs, she exploits the situation and enlists Pine to go undercover into Roper’s organization, offering him a chance of revenge for Sophie’s death. Pine soon finds himself adopting a new identity and fabricated past before an orchestrated event sets him on a path to immersion in the social circle of Roper and his cohorts. As he gets closer to him and starts to gather evidence, Pine and Burr become increasingly aware of efforts to hinder their investigation by branches of the British and American governments.
The Night Manager offers classic Le Carré: a thriller, light on action set pieces, instead playing a long game; a cat and mouse affair full of intrigue and a tangible sense of danger. It also acts as a platform for him to cast aspersion, notably on the way governments and corporations “do business.” Or how people turn a blind eye if their pockets are full or use more nefarious types to do the dirty work for them.
David Farr, adapting from the original 1993 novel, has put a slightly modern spin on the text, using locations for events and character history informed by the current political climate. Most notably, he has switched one of the main characters’ genders, a change approved by Le Carré, where Leonard Burr became Angela Burr. It not only helps the gender balance of the show and better reflects our current age, but allows for a depth to her motivations and some more fleshing out of her personal life. Director Susanne Bier effortlessly switches from sweeping views of Mallorca to the shadowy interiors of a hotel in Tangier to a sequence showing a valley bombarded with Roper’s merchandise in an impressive sales pitch. But she never loses sight of the fact that this is all dressing, the main course being the relationship between Pine and Roper.
Hiddleston is excellent here. Genteel, mysterious, and very very British, he treads a fine line between living in fear and being seduced by the lifestyle of this undercover life. Laurie’s Roper is a charming rogue, disarming behavior tinged with a chilling threat, and so savvy you can’t help but be impressed by his schemes. The latter’s grooming of the former combined with the chemistry between the two is frankly the main reason to watch the show. Added to the mix is Roper’s girlfriend Jed, played by Elizabeth Debicki. She comes across as more vulnerable than sexually alluring, which diffuses the relationship triangle of the leads of some of the erotic charge that was so obviously intended, but her performance helps bring some genuine emotion to the piece. Also of note is Tom Hollander as Roper’s right hand man Corkoran, a character a million miles away from Simon Foster, the man slowly drowning in his own ineptitude in Armando Ianucci’s In the Loop. The other standout is the always fantastic Olivia Colman. A grounded reminder of what’s at stake, relentless about her cause, she delivers a monologue about why she started to pursue Roper, which marks one of the most affecting moments of the series.
It is an enthralling, contained tale, told in a slick and confident manner. Layered and packed, but still digestible, the mini-series approach gives the story space to breathe. It’s not as deep nor complex, emotionally or narratively, as something like The Americans, London Spy, or Spooks. The tale and twists are familiar, but it never goes “full Bond” either. You still need to suspend a little belief with how Roper finally lets his guard down, but despite this, The Night Manager still manages to impress on nearly every level.
THE PACKAGEThe Night Manager is rumored to be the most expensive production the BBC has greenlighted, and it shows. Stunning locales contrast with a gritty London bureaucracy. The former is rich and vibrant, the latter more muted in tone. Either way, the Blu-ray transfer is of excellent quality, with sharp images, deep colors and excellent contrast.
The release includes all 6 episodes of the mini-series spread across two discs. Sadly, no special features are to be found in this release, surprising considering past BBC releases. A code for a digital download is included.
THE BOTTOM LINEThe Night Manager is a classic spy tale with a modern fresh feel. Hiddleston and Laurie shine, as does every other aspect of the show. While not overly cerebral, it is undoubtedly enthralling and slickly put together. A brilliant showcase for British writing, acting, and production.
The Night Manager is available on Blu-ray and DVD, August 30 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.