Stunning. Utterly stunning. In terms of sets, cast and direction, The Night Manager exudes quality. The Five Star hotels of Cairo and Zermatt, Switzerland offer an opulence of glittering superficiality so perfect for a good old fashioned dose of espionage. The actors radiating this egomania stained stardust include Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie as our nemeses: Night Manager, Pine, and arms dealer, Roper. They are supported by Rev’s Olivia Colman and Tom Hollander, now found on opposing sides in this sparkling world of murk. Add in Oscar winning director, Susanne Bier and the scene is set for a stunner of a series. Just last week the cast decamped at the Berlin film festival for a glamorous premiere. The Night Manager is less a TV series than a six-hour film for television split over six consecutive Sundays.
For those who found BBC’s adaptation of War & Peace, first released 1869, a little bit of a challenge for today’s audience, The Night Manager is an update of John le Carré’s 1993 novel. It is not merely shifted two decades to the eve of the Arab Spring, but transformed by former Spooks writer, David Farr. The characters and the plot are innovated upon in order to resonate today. The most extreme example is the switch of gender as le Carré’s Mr Burr becomes Mrs Burr. Colman’s pregnancy was a happy accident of casting, announced at her audition, that lends her character an obvious vulnerability. She is the female Smiley figure to balance the middle aged white brigade of privilege that sees Messrs Hiddleston, Hollander and Laurie all graduate from Cambridge and attend the same public school, Oxford’s The Dragon.
Le Carré has responded favourably to the changes to his original novel. They include the relocation of his story from a drug-ravaged South America of the early nighties to the turbulent turmoil of 2011’s popular uprisings and revolutions in the Middle East that continue to resonate five years later. Resonate is a feeble term for the impact that continues to tear apart communities and destroy whole countries in the case of Syria and Yemen. Winding the clock back, we are struck by the first hope and celebratory spirit as fireworks explode within Cairo’s Tahrir Square, later to become the scene of some of the worst government crackdowns. In Night Manager Pine’s office, we see these tumultuous events rendered on the screen of his tiny television. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, chefs join in the chants and jubilatory spirit after Egyptian demagogue Mubarak resigns. These events prove the backdrop to our story that unravels across three locations: London, Cairo and four years later, Zermatt. When Roper literally lands back into Pine’s life and the plot begins to motor.
The reveal of historical events may seem familiar to fans of Mad Men. And so it should be considering the company behind Mad Men and Breaking Bad are involved in this £20mil venture of which the BBC are thought to have footed a third. An estimated £7mil investment has already paid dividends in the six million viewers who tuned into the first episode. Though still behind popular favourite, Call the Midwife, the audience share was strong and looks set to grow as the series develops. The money looks a wise investment if you are in the BBC boardroom, but for a viewer it is evident in the quality of the production that more than matches the size of the budget.
It is reassuring to see the licence fee being piled into drama. The Night Manager follows in the footsteps of BBC’s resplendent War & Peace in the traditional nine o’clock Sunday night slot. Whereas Leo Tolstoy was unable to give his own recommendation, le Carré has wholeheartedly endorsed the six hours of television set to ignite our screens over the next Sundays.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia