The Night Manager: Episode 1

The BBC aren’t worried about taking chances this year, are they? Following the dramatic conclusion of their ambitious period drama, War and Peace, a new and even more ambitious drama took its time slot earlier tonight. The Night Manager is a six-part seductive spy-thriller adapted from the John le Carré novel of the same name. Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman all take on challenging and surprising lead-roles in BBC One’s latest drama. I use the word ‘surprising’ primarily for the casting of Laurie in his role in the drama, whom most fans will recognise as the lovable Doctor from House, or the dim-witted and amusing George in Blackadder, or even the caring and accepting father in Stuart Little. But no, in The Night Manager, Laurie plays Richard Roper, a conniving and manipulative arms-dealer whose sole interests are wealth and power. Contrast this with Hiddleston’s heroic Jonathan Pine, the well-mannered yet determined protagonist, and BBC have divulged the composition for the perfect spy-thriller.

After several unsuccessful attempts to adapt The Night Manager for screen (it was said the plot of the novel was far too complex to unravel in a mere two hours), Theatre Director David Farr has written a six-hour long screenplay that has been highly congratulated, even by le Carré himself – “they’ve totally changed my book, but it works”. Amongst Farr and Director Susanne Bier, a pilot episode was aired tonight that was gripping, intense and stimulating throughout. The episode launched with a Bond-esque title sequence (a little extravagant, but forgivable), before showing viewers footage of ‘philanthropist’ Roper orating a speech on the subject of aid for refugees in Cairo; viewers at this point will be doubting Laurie’s character to be “the worst person in the world” as he is later described. We then see Jonathan Pine (Hiddleston) manoeuvring his way through the protest-occupied streets of Cairo to the hotel where he works as a night manager. His English charm supplies the characteristics critical to the role Hiddleston plays in this drama, established immediately as he assures a nervous hotel guest that “the hotel is the safest place for you to be”, as the raucous sounds of protestor violence ironically interrupt his assurances. Later, as action on Cairo’s streets die down, Jonathan acquaints himself with one of the hotel’s latest guests, Sophie Alekan (Aure Atika). Sophie fits effortlessly into the Bond-girl role for which her character is clearly intended. In fact, Atika’s is up there in the best performances (albeit short) of this miniseries, providing the enigma and allure that are essential to thrillers of this nature. Sophie plays a pivotal role in this episode, and sends Jonathan on a mission that will dominate the rest of the series.

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When Sophie becomes the source of documents passed on to the British intelligence that make evident the guilt of Richard Roper in arms-dealing, (*SPOILER*), she is found on the floor of her hotel room having been murdered in an apparently violent fashion. A vengeful and resolute switch is seen in Jonathan’s conduct as he later inhabits a hotel in Zermatt in Switzerland as the new night manager; the very hotel that Roper is staying at with his many accomplices including henchmen Corcoran (Tom Hollander) and Frisky (Michael Nardone), and, notably, Jed Marshall (Elizabeth Debicki) where it is made abundantly clear that at some point, Jonathan and Jed will be enjoying some intimate moments.

An imperative character to the plot comes Burr, a high-ranking member of the British intelligence played by Olivia Colman. This is interesting considering that viewers haven’t seen Colman in much since Broadchurch Season Two. For a while, it felt like Colman was never off British screens. I distinctly remember the actress even parodying herself in a special feature for the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who in which she commented that “I’m not in it, and I’m in everything.” Colman does, however, give a mesmerising performance in a character that is gradually becoming her staple – the disgruntled operative.

A key theme in both this mini-series and the original le Carré’s novel is corruption. In the first episode of the spy-thriller we see it in the form of the dishonestly that is rife amongst the Cairo police. Subsequent to the murder of Sophie, an inspector informs the night manager that the culprit was “a burglar, a crazy burglar” although it was clearly the work of her lover, Freddie Hamid. Corruption was also the cause of her death. It is noticed early on by Jonathan that a friend of Roper’s must be working within the British intelligence to have learned that documents evidencing his guilt for the crime of arms dealership were being passed around. This, therefore, hints at the internal factions that are later to lead to great inefficiency within the intelligence’s dealing of Roper. On the whole, this mini-series is well thought out and highly entertaining; partially thanks to the commissioning of six episodes for the le Carré story which enable the plot to develop at a leisurely pace rather than clumsily, as in previous adaptations. Both the impeccable writing and impressive cast have shown promising signs of a satisfying series for Sunday nights to come.

The Night Manager continues on BBC One next Sunday (28/02/16) at 9pm.