The Night Manager Brings Cinematic Espionage to the Small Screen
by Kristin Battestella
The Nefertiti Hotel's night manager Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) receives documents implementing arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) and is later recruited by International Enforcement Chief Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) in Switzerland to infiltrate Roper's criminal organization. Pine builds his rap sheet in Devon as Jack Linden before becoming the injured Thomas Quince welcomed into Roper's island fortress in Mallorca. There, Pine becomes Andrew Birch – the front man in Roper's latest shell company buying and selling chemical weapons. Unfortunately, bureaucratic red tape, dalliances with Roper's girlfriend Jed (Elizabeth Debicki), and suspicious right hand man Corky (Tom Hollander) put the operation at risk as Pine is cut off from his handler and falls deeper into this lavish but deadly enterprise.
BBC and AMC's 2016 co-production of John Le Carre's The Night Manager is an impressive six hour adaptation brimming with sophisticated espionage and cinematic flair thanks to Emmy winning director Susanne Bier (In a Better World) and screenwriting nominee David Farr's (MI-5) update on the 1993 novel's Caribbean cartels turned contemporary Mediterranean arms. The Night Manager begins with the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, intercutting the hotbed protests in the street with video clips of our corrupt entrepreneur. The luxury hotel isn't much safer with complimentary cocktails, seductive clientele, and confidential documents, but early conversations layer what the audience needs to know – naming the bad boys, our titular employee's history, and redacted weapons manifests. There's a buttoned up formality in the nighttime bustle accented by unique through the water fountain camera angles, and zooming in on the eyes brings us closer but not within the eponymous inner workings as breathy lips near the phone receiver escalate the room service flirtation. This desert subtlety is well framed as silhouetted men walk through door frames or archways, entering deeper as critical information goes to the wrong source. Interfering with weapons deals, swapping rooms, and having a little hideaway romance leads to bruised faces and consequences while bureaucratic paper work prevents the outdated government agency with no lift or heat from pursuing its quarry. Warning phone calls come too late, and fatalities linger into the chilly present with mysterious packages and testy confrontations as our hotelier must make his choice. Unfortunately, the island luxury, continental travel, and sailing to fancy dinner parties turns into family terror. Although this second hour's opening hostage exotic is somewhat Bondian, there's relationship drama, female character developments, and depth to the ruses with disturbing give a sip of wine to the young boy and see if he likes it then give the kid a rifle and watch what happens jokes. Indoctrinating speeches and spy placements take The Night Manager back six months, and as the eponymous blank slate steps into the out of focus field office, the camera angle and his new identity become clear. This agency needs the perfect psychopath performance, and rules don't apply to the good guys if they need to get the bad guys. Infiltrating the Devon underground with motorcycles, slapping around pimps, bad drug deals, bar fights, and bloody crime scenes trump up a legend as broken bones take the put on violence too far – leaving our asset injured with the enemy seeing to his care. MI-6 and the CIA go back and forth on if they are playing ball or stonewalling each other, and each hour of The Night Manager builds its own well paced narrative with the overarching mission details and the play within a play questions on who's off the undercover script, cut off, or in too deep, thus intertwining the at home drama amid the slight of hand espionage.
Family consequences and fatal fractures come for the middle man by Episode Three, for there's a price to pay in being friendly with the worst man in the world. Business dealings are done at children's parties with the magic tricks, and tennis, beach side runs, and infinity pools come along with hefty threats – you are not a prisoner so long as one abides the house rules and doesn't tug on the leash. The bodyguards come along when going out for ice cream, and kids are used in making covert handler contact as veiled conversations say one thing and mean another amid house alarms, stolen phones, secret rooms, and keys hidden in the peppermints. Information passed outside goes back inside, creating a wedge at this Tudor-eqsue court with whispers on the balcony, deals disguised as entertainment, and strolls planting the seeds of doubt. Revelations lie behind every closed door, scorned women know too much, couples are tested, and new dalliances made – thinking about the ladies keeps a man up at night but the transparent politicians offer a different bribe in this multi-level game played with bedroom intimacy and continental meetings. The snooping gets damn risky as code names, client lists revealed, new signatures, and company facades bring our insider to the forefront. Truths said to be told in anger and spread as manure are believed by one where others are dismissed as a smear campaign when they are just as true. The circumvention almost seems too easy, but sweet selling speeches on how to win by keeping the losers guessing are said directly to the camera. Anonymous partners don't know what they are buying and selling and don't care so they can sleep at night, but paper trail leaks and revealing nighttime encounters upset this perilous balance. Kisses create complications, officials are strong armed with roadside perils, and details on the big money operation are given to the audience with envelope drops and innocuous park bench chats. Our hotelier's smoothing over panache comes in handy for the illegal trade alongside decoy cargo ships, tapped phone lines, and exposed eyes only materials. Who's double crossing whom? Rogue agents and collateral assets get caught in the complicated crossfire while handshakes and quips about the contraband remain as simple as a briefcase full of money and looking the other way on the wink.
Game faces, questions asked but answers not given, and call outs on who would betray whom come to a head in Episode Five as The Night Manager's bait and switch suspicions put the viewer in on the game being played. Refugee camps cover the deals really happening – some aide given for the ironic photo op provides a heartbreaking realization on how much these millions could do if they were really done for good. Instead, crooks move into the vacuum created by a country's chaos with spectacular demonstrations of the fatal weaponry for sale. It's an impressive fireworks display, for war is a spectator's sport and napalm looks pretty at night. Though only eighteen months old, it's a bit creepy these days to watch this shrewd, timely update waxing on mercenaries, privatized warfare, false flags, and conveniently created coups. Risks and tensions rise while the on edge entourage points fingers at each other – warrants come and funding goes thanks to lies on the fly, deliberate power outages, and violence at home. The technicalities of the snare are well explained as interrogations escalate into your word versus mine silence. The luxury hotels and exotic veneer are less lush by the final hour as The Night Manager returns to the desert where this escapade began. Global enmity folds into government inquiries, potentially false intelligence, and mothballed agencies amid private vengeance and local drug lords hung out to dry. It's time for the millionaire transfer and final client exchange, but a cowboy and a pregnant woman are all that stand beside our ex-manager against the close calls, combinations to the safe, decoy parcels, and clues at the roulette table. Cover blowing confrontations have everyone looking over their shoulders as the lose ends are caught in the expensive, explosive just deserts.
Pine, Linden, Quince, Birch – executive producer Tom Hiddleston's (Kong: Skull Island) former soldier doesn't miss warfare but he doesn't know who he really is, either. Pine hibernates in the cold anonymity of hospitality, a relatable every man willfully hiding in a luxurious shadow with nothing but a backpack and a spartan room. He has a formal, controlled facade for every situation, but when he does stick his neck out against the morally wrong weapons trade and pass along information to his former military friends, the consequences isolate the newly cut to the core Pine even further. He uses that emotion to get Roper when he has the chance, gathering useful intel while keeping his cool on the fly and thinking fast with the right smile or wink. Up close signatures are different names but the same tell tale cursive, and the name tag uniform, leather jacket, and tailored suits match each persona as Pine plays spy in Roper's world – a lavish playground for his many sides to maneuver. “Linden's” happy he can summon a fake passport, “Quince” roughs people up to make it look really authentic, and “Birch” clearly enjoys everyone calling him handsome. A guy can get used to this deception, and the camera plays to Hiddleston's strengths – panning up as he struts across the screen and fills the whole canvas with his close shaves, shirtless muscles, steamy sheets, and piercing blue palette. Pine has a soft spot for count 'em three fallen women but ultimately ends up using them as well. He's the perfect front man with his debonair answers tricking people into speaking freely, unaware he is the dark horse topsy-turvying Roper's household. He gives bitter info about his father – it wouldn't be a Hiddleston role without daddy issues! – while playing chess with mentor Roper as he likewise puts the smolder on Jed. The cracking cat and mouse worsens as half alive Pine embraces the brutality of Roper's organization and has nothing left to lose when staring at the end of the gun barrel. The double crossing roles add to the life imitating art wink, and since he's again wearing his own wardrobe, Golden Globe winner Hiddleston can seem like he's just playing his blue steel self. While Loki requires a full transformative appearance, the performance in The Night Manager has merit enough to move Hiddleston beyond the Marvel wig. Ironically, he didn't need to try so hard with that summer tabloid fiasco said to have already cost him a chance at being the next James Bond. Could he be 007 in the same gritty vein as Daniel Craig? No. However, if the franchise returns to the lighthearted charm of the Roger Moore era, than yes. After all, Pine drinks martinis, too.
We hear tell of fellow EP and Globe winner Hugh Laurie's (House) charismatic “worst man in the world” Richard Roper before we meet him thanks to his rah rah videos – his photo ops say one thing and mean another, never mind that it isn't really farm equipment his shell companies are transporting behind the jolly good, what fun lifestyle. His dry wit and cool entourage stay at ease so long as one doesn't cross Dickie, but he will test or toy with people for his bemusement, talking to Pine as a paying custom to a subservient manager before taking to his English moxie. Roper pays the bills, so he gets to draw the map, and there's almost an admiration for his self-made if illegal hard work. He's calm when his son is threatened, expecting that what he says goes, yet Roper sentimentally repays Pine for his heroics, embracing him as someone not content with life who could be worthy of his operation. Roper can groom Pine in his own image, but warns him of what will happen if you don't follow daddy's rules. Dickie sees that the world is rotten and a truly free man embraces the cruelty to stay on top – a bleak but sadly not wrong notion. He doesn't lie, just merely says the right things until you don't notice the truth isn't one of them. Such shady work comes before Jed and his little Danny, but Roper can impart his tactics on the “young prince” Birch. While he's aware one shouldn't trust a man who has no appetite or vices and keeps some of his business mysteries from Andrew, he's almost impressed by one who might outwit him. Roper sips tea during some nonchalant bathtub torture, but mistakenly believes his own cheeky hype in this caper, calling his privatized warfare one big happy kingdom where he is Caesar sitting back as others do the violence for him. However, he dislikes being double crossed, and when Roper says it is borrowed time for anyone who betrays him, we believe it.
Olivia Colman's (Broadchurch) Angela Burr may be such a super role because the character was originally a man, but the pregnant actress makes it all the more juicy and numerous awards followed. Burr uses the personal against people with no qualms because she is in the right to do so, and she pushes Pine out of his element as both a maternal figure tapping into his duty and the devil on his shoulder playing his emotion over Roper. She likes that he is a clean slate she can muck up with a fake dossier and tests Pine with his father's past – casually saying she didn't know it meant that much to him, which he counters yes, she did. Angela jokes that being a pregnant woman is the perfect cover but as an Englishwoman balks at the idea of carrying a gun. She lays her plan to infiltrate Roper's circle on thick while insisting Pine eat a cookie, and Burr turns another asset by preying on his Catholicism with her pregnant woman guardian angel Madonna veneer. Only she can wash the blood from his hands with this deceptive womanly warmth, and though her condition adds to the tough travel, hot temperatures, and stakeout waiting; the entirety of the woman's existence is not her being with child. Huzzah! Angela admits to not really loving her decent, understanding husband and may have been a little naughty along the way it seems. Upon first viewing The Night Manager, her still unmistakably pregnant despite the timeline skips may be confusing, however we can forgive the film making trickery because she has to be fresh, pushy, and loud to get her way regardless thanks to nasty bureaucrats who don't want Burr digging further. She's always one step behind Roper, and this off the books operation is a risky venture that brings consequences close to home. Angela's scared, but she won't concede to an ignorant, stay a home life, giving the reason why she despises Roper in a stunning, heartfelt scene done with nothing but one woman retelling a terrible witness to another.
Perhaps Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E) is an unconventional beauty to Hollywood standards, but she's a lady as tall as her men with an edgy haircut and sexy slip in or slip out effortless, elegant styles. Her Jed is initially blissfully unaware of Roper's ways – but she's not afraid to show her body to keep up the heated pools, lavish furs, and tubs of champagne. The subtle camera pans suggest what the men are thinking without being mere titillation to make the audience drool, and maybe it takes a woman director to know the difference. Jed has a family history that doesn't match the lingerie and satin robes brochure, and she won't let anyone see her tears, taking pills to cope and staying so cool on the outside as angry calls from home risk revealing her baggage to Roper. She's deluded herself into thinking this is a loving relationship rather than another one of Roper's arrangements, telling Pine knowing Roper's business would drive her mad and dropping dress to test him with her body because maybe that is the only way she knows how. However, Jed's doubts do blossom with Jonathan there to help her escape. She objects to being just another employee in Roper's shady deals, getting pissy and finding it more and more difficult to play along in keeping him happy. Jed becomes emotional – being in love makes her slip up, and she isn't as good at this covert fine line as the boys and her pretty face pays. Though at times the camera is too obvious in the lovebirds' stolen glances, that mirrors their increasing notice to others, and Tom Hollander's (Rev.) Lance “Corky” Corkoran sees Pine for exactly what he is. Initially, Corky's rare loyalty and ruthless skills are worth any bemusing faux pas. He enjoys getting under everyone's skin, flirting with Pine to gauge a response while remaining suave in his threats. Corky suggests big deals go down at family parties and seems unfettered by potential harm to the children, but he's rightfully suspicious of the employee from Switzerland with an international rap sheet posing as a chef in Mallorca who rescued the Chief's kid. His own vices, unfortunately, become an embarrassing liability – Roper can only overlook the $100 a pop “uncorking” expenses for so long until Corky's left home and pushed out of the business in favor of Birch. He warns him to back off romancing Jed and sobers up to confront Andrew. Unfortunately, there isn't room in Roper's court for both of them, and it is ridiculous that Hollander won the Supporting Actor Bafta yet received no other nominations.
The Night Manager has fine support all around, including David Harewood (Homeland) as Angela's likewise red taped American ally Joel Steadman. She needs him under the rug and on her side, and the implication of a past fling and his still having a soft spot for our hard dame is a wonderful touch contrasting the snobby smooth of Alistair Petri's (Rogue One) Lord Langbourne. He enjoys the viola in doing Roper's deals, liking Pine's suave front even if a simple hotel man raised up can't have the same elan as his aristocratic self. Sadly, Natasha Little (Another Life) as his wife Caroline is aware of the trade secrets and patting on the young nanny's bottom, gossiping to Pine because she wants to talk with someone else who sees everything. She dislikes him becoming Roper's “acolyte,” but Dickie humiliates her into reporting on Jed. Young Noah Jupe's (Suburbicon) Danny also factors into the plot as needed with Pine using Roper's son for information and connections – an unenviable situation for the only genuine and innocent person in this world who just likes having Jonathan as a friend. Aure Atika's (Mademoiselle Chambon) Sophie is also a bittersweet, trying to be brave, classy dame in with the wrong crowd both saved and ruined by the men around her. Frisky and Tabby bodyguards Michael Nardone (Rome) and Hovik Keuchkerian (Assassin's Creed) are sardonic but appropriately violent, while Douglas Hodge's Rex Mayhew (Penny Dreadful) is a good politician screwed over, and man, River House bad Tobias Menzies (Outlander) is once again so shady and smug, belittling Burr's agency as nothing more than her personal obsession with Roper, GTFO.
From Cairo and the Pyramids, Swiss resorts, or Mallorca palaces to British countrysides, London skylines, and Turkish hideaways; wherever The Night Manager roams there are sweet, sweet locales. Title cards giving time and place add to the assorted languages as sweeping overhead shots and wide lenses make people small against the scene setting grandeur – be it Spanish churches symbolizing guilt and repentance or snowy mountaintops touching the humbling night sky. Click click snapshots match spying camera views of SUV entourages while up close photography draws the viewer into the heist action. While the steeped in the plot technology will be dated soon, such security scanning, encrypted messages, retina recognition, and voice transfers are high tech enough to be slightly fantastic yet believably slick. So what if sliding tablet screens and thumbs poised over the green send call button aren't the slammed receiver from the days of old – criminal satellite visuals and night vision screens contrast the less tricked out official outfits using fax machines, older televisions, and big computers. Interiors are likewise warmed with fire lit glows or sunny island windows for the lavish compared to frigid government offices. The brief nudity is sexy but demure, however brief ghostly flashes are unnecessary thanks to better editing and photography already reflecting internal character angst. Pine also smokes in one scene purely to show his willpower against Roper, but it is such a fine mano y mano moment we can allow it. The Night Manager is shot like a film, and while some viewers may find the stylish transitions irrelevant, it's nice to have a series setting itself apart with visual flair looking more expensive than it actually is. The haunting melodies and simmering music fit this beautiful but dangerous edge, and the excellent opening credits sum up the series perfectly with a mirage of bombs, firepower, and explosive clouds merging with alluring diamonds, champagne, and crashing chandeliers.
Although the stateside AMC airing of The Night Manager made slight editing and censoring changes – international screenings also changed the series from six solid hours to eight, forty-five minute episodes for some markets – there are behind the scenes features and bonuses available amid several uncut video releases and streaming options. In contrast to that other MI-6 agent, The Night Manager combines the individual spy, larger mission, team at hand, and female characters better than Spectre without sacrificing any extravagance. I still say Spectre's formula of MI-6 getting the job done largely without Bond can be a 008 Netflix series in between movies, but The Night Manager works as both one cinematic binge or an episodic pace. It's great on the first viewing for all the surprises, but the allure grows the more times you watch all the slight of hand, drool worthy people, and pretty places. Though not a totally faithful adaptation for novel purists, the miniseries ends well with awards acclaim and continued success necessitating rumblings of a follow up season. I'd love to see more, but a sequel has to be as good as this debut, and The Night Manager is difficult act to follow. Rather than weekly flash a minute, for the cool fake outs, The Night Manager updates Le Carre's espionage into a contemporary, relevant, and well balanced but no less enticing potboiler.