AMC’s six-part mini-series, ‘The Night Manager,’ which completed at the end of last month and is available On Demand, is a great example of the kind of cinematic storytelling now achievable on the small screen. The cable network took a chance on a complex espionage noir thriller, based on spymaster John le Carre’s novel, starring Tom Hiddleston (‘The Avengers’ Loki) and Hugh Laurie (‘House’). It ended up being slow-burning, riveting television with extremely high production values, a satisfyingly complete story, and a consistent look / tone.
The series benefited by maintaining the singular visions of writer David Farr (adapting from le Carre) and director Susanne Bier (a feature film lenser with an impeccable perception for locales, style, and the blue in her actors’ and actress’s eyes), a trend that has worked very well for some of the better, long-form offerings on television such as ‘True Detective’s first season and last year’s perfect HBO mini, ‘Show Me a Hero.’ A deft screenplay and inspired direction bring out the best in a fine assembly of mainly British actors, and the shifting lush settings coax a palpable experience in an audience. The juxtaposition of these locales (Spanish villas, posh Eqyptian and Scandanavian hotels) with the horrors of war mongering make the whole proceeding all the more unnerving. The dedication on display reveals the genuine appreciation for this material and the passion to bring this riveting story to life.
Hiddleston stars as the titular character named Jonathan Pine, working as the accommodating and resourceful night shift manager at an upscale hotel in Cairo. He is ex-military who has seen combat, and the series opens with him being generally comfortable navigating streets embroiled in unrest during the Arab Spring a few years ago. He gets entangled with the mistress of an abusive criminal with ties to Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), the seemingly legitimate international businessman whose real money and power come from his illegal, country-toppling, arms dealing. It quickly becomes apparent that Hiddleston’s Pine is an adrift ronin-type looking for a cause even if he can’t admit it to himself. His ability, dedication, and quite frankly, solitude, makes him the perfect inside man for British intelligence. His handler comes in the form of Olivia Colman as Angela Burr, a driven and incorruptible force banished to the fringes of M-Street – most likely for her inability to conform to authority – who nevertheless leads a competent group of analysts. Luckily for her, she also maintains tight contact with the American CIA (in the form of the grounded David Harewood) and the respect of her boss, who also wants to see the mighty (and wily) Roper held accountable for his notorious activity.
Laurie plays Roper as the kind of villain that an audience (and at times it seems, Pine) can’t help but fall under his sway. His time consists of enjoying the good life, jet-setting around Europe, attending lavish parties and dinners with his cronies, until its’ time to do business – this is where he truly shines- and his ability to keep the feds at bay in surprising ways, is what he enjoys most in life. Despite the desire to see him caught, it is still a thrill to see how he deftly avoids arrest and it is obvious that Laurie relishes in playing this kind of character. He also brings along his trophy American girlfriend Jed (the statuesque, free-spirited beauty, newcomer Elizabeth Debicki), and in true noir fashion, she becomes part of the complications of the plot, a basically innocent social climber caught up in a world she only partially understands.
If this all sounds like it falls in the James Bond-ian realm, a viewer can’t help to draw parallels, it may actually be on purpose. During, and shortly after, the airing of this mini-series, both star Hiddleston and director Bier have shot up the short-list of replacements for the next phase of the enduring franchise, and for good reason. While light on the action/chase scenes, ‘The Night Manager’ has all the intrigue, thrills, explosions, suave characters, and expertly shot scenery that the best of the British-borne series has to offer . . .
* * * ½ (out of 4 stars) -OR- A-