“I think it chose me,” Tom Hiddleston’s Jonathan Pine advises when he’s asked about his line of work, checking in guests and attending to their nocturnal needs as the night manager at a lavish Egyptian hotel. It’s a profession that the ex-Iraqi War soldier proves ideally suited for, with his engaging smile and ability to put anyone in his vicinity at ease; however, the same could be said for his next occupation.
By the end of the first episode of six-part series The Night Manager, Pine has a new calling. Once the second instalment kicks into gear, he also has a new moniker. Of course, the latter makes the former possible. When you’re swapping overseeing hotel operations while everyone else is sleeping for leaping into the treacherous realm of international espionage, including infiltrating the inner circle of a prominent philanthropist and secret arms dealer, you can’t just throw about your own name.
This is the world that The Night Manager dwells in, one that’s seductive, luxurious, duplicitous and dangerous all at once. Springing from John le Carré’s 1993 novel of the same name, the miniseries ranks among the best screen versions of the prolific Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy author’s efforts — spinning an enticingly thrilling story, bringing together a stellar cast, and benefiting from exacting direction. With all of that in mind, it’s little wonder that it has won two Emmys and three Golden Globes from a wealth of other nominations.
The story is intense
After an incident in Egypt and a new position in Switzerland, Pine is plucked from seeming normality and pitted against the formidable yet openly charismatic Richard Onslow Roper (Hugh Laurie). Now known as Thomas Quince, he cosies up to the man he’s tasked with taking down — following the orders of pregnant MI6 intelligence officer Angela Burr (Olivia Colman), attracting suspicion from Roper’s right-hand man Major "Corky" Lance Corkoran (Tom Hollander), and becoming infatuated with his attractive girlfriend Jed Marshall (Elizabeth Debicki) in the process.
Everyman versus villain mightn’t appear to set the series on a unique narrative course, but one thing that Le Carré’s work has repeatedly demonstrated — and film and television adaptations of his work as well is the complexity and intricacy that drives human relationships, especially in heightened circumstances.
While plenty of tension arises from simply anticipating the complicated terrain these characters will traverse, and several onslaughts of action follow, the minutiae of the situation is what elicits and sustains interest. Loaded moments threaten to expose Pine’s true identity at every turn, stolen glances and steamy encounters occur between Pine and Jed under Roper’s cautious eyes, and the trickery of continually playing games of cat and mouse takes a toll on everyone involved.
The on-screen talent is A-list
Indeed, whether a hotelier is trying his hand at being a spy, a humanitarian is profiting from war-mongering, a spouse embarking upon an affair, or an agent navigating political interference to keep an investigation open, peering beyond the surface is pivotal in The Night Manager. In short, as alliances change and conspiracy theories develop thick and fast, no one is quite as they seem. The storyline isn’t the only element of the series that benefits from such double dealing, with the series corralling an excellent cast to flesh out the many sides of its array of characters.
That includes Laurie schmoozing both Hiddleston and the audience in a role that’s steeped in the arrogance of wealth and power, Hollander stealing every scene he’s in by ensuring the spirited Corky refuses to adhere to any type, and Colman continuing to trade in quiet devastation, this time as a woman driven to do the right thing even when she’s well aware of both the considerable obstacles and the corresponding costs.
Australia’s own Debicki ensures Jed is never simply arm candy, a pawn or a device to increase the stakes, with her stare often blank but her motivations always apparent. And, as well as sharing blistering chemistry with both Laurie and Debicki, Hiddleston more than earns the calls for him to play the B word — that’s Bond, James Bond — in a part that’s suaveness personified yet still laced with vulnerability, and not just when he’s frequently shirtless.
Thanks to the director, it’s absolutely gorgeous
The tale, the talent: both set The Night Manager on a course for enthralling viewing; however, there’s more to the series than immersing the cast within an intriguing premise, pointing the camera in their direction and watching the sparks — and spies, secrets, scheming and sex — fly. The secret weapon in this espionage effort’s arsenal is Oscar-winning In A Better World filmmaker Susanne Bier, who proves well aware of the need to make the show look every bit as good as its stars.
Arising from the Danish Dogma 95 film movement started by Melancholia’s Lars von Trier and Far From the Madding Crowd’s Thomas Vinterberg, Bier has a precise eye for bringing her material to life in the most alluring way possible. Naturalism mightn’t be on display here, but the series’ energetic jaunts between opulent global locations gleam with beauty while still feeling realistic.
And yet, her approach doesn’t just draw attention to scenic sights, spending just as much time peering, intimately, at the emotions and expressions streaming across the actors’ faces. Whether gazing at postcard-perfect scenes from afar or getting up close and personal, it’s almost as though Bier can’t resist indulging in everything around her — an urge shared by both The Night Manager’s characters and, as the show unfolds, its audience.
The Night Manager premieres Wednesday, 22 March at 8:30pm on SBS. After they air, episodes will be available on SBS On Demand.