A few words about The Night Manager, the excellent John Le Carre adaptation that has been wowing drama fans on BBC1- the last episode is this weekend. Like the majority of critics I’ve been hooked on exciting times in exotic locations with handsome actors.
The all-star cast features so many versatile, award-winning actors who have serious comedy chops. It feels like these funny charming characters are having to tone it down a bit, or indeed turn up the angry flashing stares and gritty malevolence – Hugh Laurie and Tom Hollander are amazingly sinister. Olivia Colman and Adeel Akhtar ( who I recognised from the film Four Lions) are shaking up the British Intelligence Services from the inside and old boys club seems to have had something of a makeover.
The casting is great and I’m pleased that Burr is female on tv (the character is a man in the book). There’s no harm in modernising that for 2016 audiences but the story itself is a classic spy thriller. I think Ian Fleming would have approved of the classic dead femme fatale opener. Our hero Jonathan Pine (square jawed and very handsome Tom Hiddleston) gets himself into some serious trouble for her during the Arab Spring in Egypt because he thinks they were in love. I’m not buying it – it all seemed too seductive, like a desperate holiday romance. Why did she trust him with the incriminating papers in the first place? I hope we get to find out.
Speaking of the classic spy, it’s no accident that the stunning opening credits are very Bond. The only thing missing is the naked dancing girls but that shouldn’t come as a surprise given it’s 2016 and this is very serious (and expensive) BBC drama.
Our baddie Dickie Roper’s travelling court looks very glamorous indeed. The Spanish mansion that they filmed in is one of the most expensive houses in the entire country. The fortress-style house makes me think of Daenerys Targaryen’s castles in Game of Thrones, only with en suite and wifi. I didn’t expect life for a British ex-pat in the Costas to look so damn good. No Brit abroad cliches here. Maybe arms dealers are a cut above the regular bank robbers and gangsters that wind up there.
In contrast is seems the life of a spy is not glamorous at all. It’s all assignations in damp parks, keeping warm in wooly cardigans in a freezing cold office, putting your family and friends in real danger, and being lied to by your own top brass. And Olivia Coleman’s Angela Burr is heavily pregnant throughout.
She’s an absolute star in this (again, not something that should come as a surprise). The Night Manager asks the question what do spies really look like? Classically they look and sound like suave Jonathan Pine but Angela is a very believable spy. She’s disarmingly lovely, but scratch the surface and she’s all steely determination and ruthlessness to her core. I love her warm northern accent, and her motherly charm. But it’s clear she’d throw you under the bus if you compromised her investigation. Poor old Jonathan had better look out.
In fact despite his military background I think Pine is actually far too nice. You can see why he had to be toughened up during a brief stint as a drug dealer in Devon. But his hotelier experience means he’s great at schmoozing and problem solving for Roper, diffusing the situations that Tom Hollander’s character Corky tries to throw at him. Roper’s court is very Shakespearean, all those so-called friends vying for his approval and he knows he’s got at least one mole sending his hideous lists of war machines for sale to the intelligence services. Corky won’t go quietly. I love how the nice guy from Rev and Doctor Thorne is surprisingly good at being darkly threatening and slightly unhinged.
So what is real patriotism? What would you willingly do for your country? And what’s the price that Pine will have to pay? Surely the evil Roper is unstoppable, even with someone so dogged and determined as Angela Burr on his heels. This weekend, we’ll find out.