BBC One’s big new six-part Sunday night drama is an ambitious, contemporary interpretation of John le Carré’s espionage novel The Night Manager.
The series follows former British soldier Jonathan Pine, played by Tom Hiddleston, who is recruited by intelligence operative Angela Burr (Olivia Colman), to infiltrate the inner circle of international businessman and “worst man in the world”, Richard Roper, played brilliantly by Hugh Laurie.
Hiddleston, Colman and Laurie already make-up a brilliant cast, but when you add in Tom Hollander, Elizabeth Debicki, Douglas Hodge, Antonio de la Torre, David Harewood, Katherine Kelly, Tobias Menzies, Adeel Akhtar, Neil Morrissey, Natasha Little, Aure Atika, Alistair Petrie, Michael Nardone and Russell Tovey then you have an outstanding cast.
Of course great names isn’t enough to make great television, you also need a strong script. So does David Farr’s interpretation of The Night Manager live up to the hype? In short, yes. Yes it does.
The other week I was invited to the press launch for the series where we were shown the first episode and the first ten minutes of episode two (I’m still itching to see the rest of the episode).
Then after the screening we were treated to a Q&A with Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman and Tom Hollander, as well as director Susanne Bier and Executive Producers Stephen Garrett and Simon Cornwell.
The series opens in Cairo, it's January 2011 and amidst the chaos of the Arab Spring is when we first meet Jonathan Pine (Hiddleston), we see him work his way through the rioting crowds to arrive at Cairo’s luxurious Nefertiti Hotel where he works as the night manager.
Hiddleston is stunning as Pine, it’s almost as if the role was written with him in mind. I’ve not had the pleasure of reading the book (it’s on my long lost of things to do), but I’m pretty sure that I had I of read the book, my imagined version of Pine would be pretty close, if not exactly like Tom Hiddleston.
Whilst trying to help frantic tourists, he is approached by Sophie Alekan (Aure Atika), the breathtakingly beautiful mistress of the hotel’s owner, Freddie Hamid. When she asks him to make copies of some important documents, Pine can’t help but to look, and it turns out that what he’s dealing with here is evidence that an arm deal is taking place between Hamid and Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie).
Fearing the potentially catastrophic repercussions of the deal, Pine leaks the files to the British Government, and the documents land on the desk of Angela Burr, a member of the British Secret Intelligence Service in London who has a long-standing vendetta against the elusive Roper. When Roper is tipped off about the government’s intelligence, Sophie is put in extreme danger.
The story then moves on five years. Pine is now working at the Meisters Hotel in Zermatt, Switzerland, where Roper and his entourage frequent. Haunted by what happened in Cairo, Pine contacts Angela Burr and a fragile and complex partnership is formed.
I particularly love the character of Richard Roper, on the outside he’s this charming billionaire businessman, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist a gentlemen, but he also carries the tag of “the worst man in the world”.
This is because underneath the rather charming exterior is someone who has built an empire from his trade in human life, selling arms to the highest bigger and purchasing whatever sounds he can along the way.
Speaking during the Q&A, Hugh Laurie confessed to being a “devoted admirer of le Carré from a very young age” and 25 years ago, told us how when he first read The Night Manager he tried to “option the book in the role of producer", something he’d never done before and hasn’t done since.
He also dreamt of playing the character of Jonathan Pine and joked that he now has to watch "Tom Hiddleston be virile and charming, and fucking galling to watch!"
Describing Roper at the screening, Laurie told us that what he finds so frightening about him is "his competence, his intelligence, his confidence, his imagination, his daring.” citing them as qualities which "make him dangerous, besides malice and cruelty”.
Olivia Colman is unable to put a foot wrong in my eyes. I’m yet to see her play a bad part, and I don’t think I ever will. In The Night Manager, she plays Angela Burr, the head of a modest enforcement agency and at the heart of this agency is a private crusade to bring down Richard Roper.
When she meets Pine, she is able to find a share conscience, and through sending him into battle, her integrity will be challenged and it’s not long before she discovers that there are rivals closer to home determined to pervert the course of justice.
Olivia appears to pick her roles very carefully and in playing Angela Burr, not only has she turned the character from a male (in the book) to a female (on screen), but she’s also pregnant. Speaking about the decision not to hide her real pregnancy, Colman told us: “I knew I was pregnant during my first meeting (with Susanne - director) for this amazing job, and I thought, I can’t lie because hopefully everything will be OK and then it’ll become quite obvious. So I told Susanne, and there was a bit of a lull for her to get back to me and she said “OK, you can be pregnant”.
At which point Susanne added: “I want to be perfectly honest, that I did immediately think it was a fantastic advantage (Olivia being pregnant), because with her being the moral heart of the piece, it certainly added to it, being pregnant. I don’t think any of the producers actually disagreed."
What I adored about The Night Manger was its ambition - its ambition in adapting the novel for the small-screen, putting together an A-list cast and creating a cinematic look nothing short of spectacular.
A lot of television drama these days is described as cinematic, and that’s because it often is, but after watching The Night Manager it’s incomparable with anything I’ve seen on British television recently. Not exactly surprising when you’re dealing with locations such as Cairo and Mallorca. Whether you think The Night Manager is for you or not, I urge you to at least give it a chance. I guarantee that it won’t take you long to be sucked into the story, the setting and its wonderful characters.