The Night Manager
When John le Carré was last adapted for TV 25 years ago, the Cold War was still thawing out, and we all naively wondered if there was any future for espionage thrillers.
Fortunately for le Carré (and less fortunately for the rest of us) the world is still very much a hot mess. By 1993, when le Carré published The Night Manager, the focus had shifted to the War on Drugs in Central America; two decades later, that story has been re-tooled for the War on Terror, in a six-part co-production between the BBC and AMC, the network behind Breaking Bad and Mad Men.
Le Carré doesn’t hang about: opening amidst the tumult of 2011’s Arab Spring, we were waist-deep in plot within 10 minutes, as Cairo hotel night manager Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) learned that a British billionaire businessman and philanthropist (Hugh Laurie) was secretly selling weapons – everything from fighter planes to nerve gas and napalm – to a local arms dealer. ‘There are enough toys here to start a war,’ said the man from the British Embassy. ‘Or crush a popular uprising,’ noted Pine, grimly.
In London, this lethal shopping crossed the desk of Angela Burr, a proper, old-fashioned British spy who says things like ‘He was my leg man in Kiev’. Played by walking quality Kitemark Olivia Colman, she’s basically a heavily pregnant George Smiley, if that’s not too disturbing an image.
Four years on, Pine was working in Switzerland (a Swiss Pine, if you will) when he came face to face with his nemesis – Hugh Laurie radiating such quiet menace, it’s odd to think he used to specialise in braying upper-class twits. Perhaps in 20 years’ time, Jack Whitehall will be playing suave, ruthless villains in £20m international dramas as well.
The Night Manager is gripping stuff – a real page-turner, or whatever the TV equivalent is – powered by a superstar cast. But, for all its zeitgeisty edge, it’s also a curiously old-fashioned affair: a bit like a 70s Bond movie, minus the ski stunts and silly gadgets. And, unlike Bond, Pine occasionally has to break off the spying in order to re-stock a mini-bar or fix a faulty trouser press. Secret service with a smile.
Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong’s student comedy has entered its final term, and the housemates are worried that ‘the fun’s running out’. ‘Tonight is the last opportunity we’ll have to watch the first in a new series of New Tricks together!’ wailed Josie. But with witty scripts and fabulous performances from Zawe Ashton, Kimberley Nixon, Jack Whitehall, Charlotte Ritchie, Greg McHugh and Joe Thomas – surely the best ensemble cast on telly – the good news is there are still five weeks before the fun runs out for good.
Proving that daytime telly isn’t all antiques, property renovations and Ben Shephard, drama anthology Moving On has been quietly showcasing some of Britain’s best writing and acting talent for seven years now, and all before Countdown. New series opener Taxi for Linda saw former soap faves Julie Hesmondhalgh, John Thomson and Shane Richie involved in a messy ménage-a-trois in a minicab office. Though the jokes could have been sharper (sample gag ‘Shiatsu?’ ‘Bless you’), it was sweet and touching, and no-one tried to flog a vase or a barn conversion.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, February 25, 2016
(c) Waitrose Weekend