A classy and compelling John Le Carré adaptation
★★★★½ BBC1, Sunday, 21 February, 9pm
IT’S BEEN 25 years since the last John Le Carré novel made it to the small screen, and that was a now forgotten Thames TV version of A Murder of Quality.
Cinema has taken up the British novelist’s work with gusto since then, with five movies being made, including The Tailor of Panama and the dour but well-received Tinker Tailor Solider Spy in 2011.
This new realisation of The Night Manager, which is said to have cost £20m ($30m), could well be the best of the lot. The Beeb seems to have got just about all the casting and production decisions right.
Tom Hiddleston is terrific away from the big-budget pantomime of the Thor films, playing ex-British soldier Jonathan Pine, who is now working as a hotel night manager, a choice position from which to learn the peccadilloes and secrets of rich clientele.
Hugh Laurie – charm and sadistic evil
This is how he encounters the beautiful Sophie (Aure Atika), mistress of a shady businessman in Egypt, who passes on to Pine documents exposing billionaire philanthropist Richard Roper as a dealer in weapons such as napalm and other illegal ‘toys’.
Roper is played by Hugh Laurie, a million miles here from his buffoonery as Jeeves or the upper-class halfwits of Blackadder. In the trailer, Laurie looks like he might be the weak link in the pivotal role of villain, but he is superb. It’s a flesh-creeping portrayal of charm, intelligence and sadistic evil.
Hiddleston is cool but vulnerable as Pine, who is emboldened to be recruited by British intelligence into spying on Roper after Sophie is attacked for leaking the arms documents to him.
Olivia Colman as the spy chief
The principals are backed by A-list support from Olivia Colman as the bloody-minded intelligence chief Angela Burr, with Tom Hollander as Roper’s sneering factotum and Jed Marshall adding glamour as the businessman’s seductively dangerous arm candy.
Russell Tovey is also on hand as a rather spineless embassy mate of Pine’s.
The settings are Bond-esque with international allure, from the Pyramids to the snowy peaks of Switzerland, and in later episodes the action sequences are pretty spectacular, too.
The action in the opener is more psychological, with Pine playing a dangerous game of snooping on the ever watchful Roper. The whole thing is directed with aplomb by big-screen conductor Susanne Bier.
Watching Pine navigate his way through the moral murk and an alluring world of power and wealth through the six instalments of The Night Manager is definitely going to be one of the TV highlights of 2016.
Check out… The Guardian on The Night Manager