• Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie in 'The Night Manager'. (SBS)Source: SBS
It might predate POTUS 45, but 'The Night Manager' couldn't sum up what it's like living in his world better if it tried.
By
Sarah Ward

17 Apr 2017 - 2:14 PM  UPDATED 17 Apr 2017 - 2:17 PM

Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) has a problem. Once, his days were ordinary - or as ordinary as they can be for a man working evenings at a luxurious hotel in Egypt, greeting late-arriving clientele, ensuring they have a comfortable stay and overseeing operations while most people slumber. Then, his existence changes in an instant.

Though no stranger to conflict, the former soldier-turned-night manager is plunged into a world of turmoil not even relocating to a new establishment in the snowy, scenic climes of Switzerland can fix. Instead, more tension and trouble quickly follow.

Pine provides The Night Manager with its protagonist, an everyman suddenly caught in a swell of uncertainty. In the involving six-part TV adaptation of John le Carré’s espionage novel, he’s the audience’s guide and surrogate as the material takes him - and them - into a murky realm.

Enter charming philanthropist Richard Onslow Roper (Hugh Laurie), who doubles as a ruthless arms dealer, as well as his statuesque girlfriend, Jed Marshall (Elizabeth Debicki), who’s keeping her wish for a less sordid life hidden. Back in Britain, hard-working government agents strive to fight for what’s right at any cost, as exemplified by the pregnant and persistent Angela Burr (Olivia Colman), while political operators happily stomach Roper’s deviousness for the sake of their own corrupt agenda.

It’s a tricky situation, to say the least. As Pine navigates his way through dishonest smiles and earnest pleas for assistance, he becomes the poster child for manoeuvring through bleak, duplicitous, dangerous and ever-shifting times.

Fear and paranoia are soon his constant companions, and not just because he opts to serve as a spy for Burr to help bring down Roper. When going to work in a commonplace hotel job involves murdered guests and weapons trading, panic and anxiety are difficult to escape.

Dating back to 1993 on the page and airing in the United Kingdom in 2016, The Night Manager precedes the current president of the United States, however, it couldn’t offer more appropriate viewing at present.

No one tweets "FAKE NEWS!!!" incessantly. The characters don’t weekend at a golf course. Everyone has better hair and a more realistic skin tone. Not a single figure has earned a satirical impression by Alec Baldwin. And yet, the nervousness and apprehension that glimmers in Pine’s eyes - a suave, collected Hiddleston knows when to let his character’s inner worries bubble to the surface - conveys the perturbed state that’s coming to define living in 2017.

Call it prescience, call it coincidence, call it le Carré’s six-decade-long fascination with the furtive underpinnings of our society ascending to the fore in an unexpectedly timely fashion. Whichever fits, The Night Manager pulses with immediacy and relevance.

As the story continues, Pine can trust few people he comes into contact with, let alone the praising stories spun about Roper in the media. With Burr, he discovers how self-interest trumps national interest in the halls of power. Sound familiar?

Lately, it has become par for the course to find parallels between Trump and popular culture, intended or otherwise. On the big screen, The Boss Baby and The Lego Batman Movie are current targets, demonstrating that even content aimed at younger viewers isn’t immune.

Waves of films and television shows either in production or yet to come into existence will cement these ties in a more explicit manner in the coming years. But reflecting a climate of treachery, tentativeness and torment isn’t a new occurrence. Nor is exploring the ramifications for everyday folks of rallying, either overtly or quietly, and in regular or heightened circumstances, against a high-profile, highly publicised figure.

Indeed, the nuts and bolts of living in uncertain times are well covered in The Night Manager’s narrative, which has been turned into a riveting teleplay by producer and Spooks veteran David Farr.

Every move Pine makes from the moment he turns to espionage is clouded by the concern of someone no longer able to believe in the world around him. Each determined battle Burr wages to keep their mission going smacks of defiance as a coping mechanism. Both trade in information as a survival tactic, with knowledge - about Roper’s activities, as well as their enemies within the government - truly equating to power when lies prosper.

Spicing up proceedings with a clandestine attraction between Pine and Jed doesn’t detract from the main thrust of the storyline. In fact, it adds texture and complexity, layering even more complications upon The Night Manager's troubled hero already seeping wariness from his pores.

It’s this mood of swirling suspicion that oozes through the miniseries’ six episodes and ensures watching each development feels like looking into a mirror - tonally and thematically, that is. A tension-riddled score amplifies the atmosphere of unease, while every stylistic decision immerses the audience further into Pine’s rightfully paranoid, dread-filled mindset and calls attention to the secretive, obstructed path he’s heading down.

Icy shades cool down even the warmest, greenest, most lavish settings. Pine is often placed behind obscuring objects - the metal bars of a stairway, peering through a doorway or simply partially cloaked in shadows. His conversations, particularly with Burr, are frequently framed through windows or shot from afar.

Director Susanne Bier, who helms the entirety of The Night Manager’s run and won an Emmy Award for her efforts, is an experienced hand at making internal stresses and anxieties seethe from the screen. Her filmmaking career is built from the blocks of turbulent emotions festering beneath the surface, from the love triangles at the centre of 2002’s Open Hearts and 2004’s Brothers, to the moral quandaries at the core of 2010’s In a Better World and 2014’s A Second Chance.

Relaying worry and fear, including the type that’s ever-present and yet can’t necessarily be uttered, has become her specialty - a niche within which The Night Manager firmly fits. Doubt and distrust echo through her take on le Carré’s tale, echoing the general, growing sentiments of everyone watching in these Trumpian times in the process.

The Night Manager airs Wednesday nights at 8:30pm on SBS. Catch up with previous episodes on SBS On Demand:

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