Note: Apologies for posting something so outdated, but I’m currently transferring several old entertainment articles from my old site. I hope you find the writing enjoyable nevertheless.
The case for televisual superiority gets stronger every day. Last night, the BBC’s The Night Manager , a suavely cinematic adaptation of John Le Carré’s 1993 espionage novel, sauntered onto the airwaves with the confidence of a noble lion. It is that rare breed of bold and mature programming that is rife in America but a precious scarcity in the UK, which by itself is enough to make it a national fixture of Sunday night viewing. Account for a superstar cast, ravishing production values, and the unusually thoughtful photography, and this spy saga becomes unmissable.
However, for some the only necessary recommendation will be that it stars Tom Hiddleston, the beloved gentleman actor of The Avengers and Crimson Peak, in a role which is immaculately tailored to his talents. He plays Jonathan Pine, an English hotelier who is polite, professional, and strangely unmoved by chaos of a explosive Egyptian riot which opens the episode. We instantly know that this a man who has seen far worse sights than a wine stain on the lobby floor.
The tale begins when a guest asks Pine to pass some documents to the British embassy, documents which list excessive deliveries of “Napalm” and “Tear gas” to several terrorist organisations from of Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie, purring with velvety menace) , a humanitarian whose good work goes hand in hand with illegal arms trading. Repulsed, Pine agrees to infiltrate Roper’s tight inner circle on the behalf of the British Intelligence Service, who apart from Olivia Colman’s stern spymaster Burr, are cheekily characterised as ineffectual employees more concerned about procedure than the greater good.
Colman is typically superb as Burr, contributing her usual blend of righteous determination and emotional sensitivity. Her involvement also brings Broadchurch to mind, Chris Chibnall’s Nordic murder mystery which just happened to take place on the Jurassic coast, and it’s evident that The Night Manager shares the same ambitions to tell a highly visual tale in a medium which usually favours stodgy dialogue. Whether it shall conquer that goal like Broadchurch’s excellent first series or slam into the posts like that show’s muddled follow up shall become clear in the coming weeks.
The BBC has invested an amount of creative and financial resources into these series, and the results are nothing less than exhilarating. In 60 minutes, the screenplay by David Farr touches on issues of national pride, political corruption, and stomach-turning survivor’s guilt with a sniper’s precision. Of course, there are generic offerings of exotic locations as the story nimbly leaps Cairo to London to Switzerland, but the settings are so evocatively rendered by director Susan Bier that they surpass travelogue and become brooding expressions of the character’s emotional landscapes.
Disallowing the jarring appearance of a rather unconvincing spectre, The Night Manager’s atmosphere drips with ripe Hitchcockian flavour, from the cut of Hiddleston’s blisteringly blue waistcoat to how Bier twists the ordinary into disquieting new shapes, such as a overhead shot of an ice tundra which resembles a mangled skull, or a expertly framed set piece where Pine makes an agonising phonecall -Notice those skin-prickling closes ups on his nervous lips.
Umpteenth people have claimed that broadcasters offer higher quality entertainment than theatres, and they’re right to an extent. Their mistake is to claim it is a recent phenomenon . The BBC have been outclassing the lumbering movie studios for decades, and with The Night Manager, they have vindicated the value of the licence fee a hundred times over. Bravo!