John Le Carré is an interesting author, and adaptations of his work in both film and television have proved to be some of the most fascinating and top quality work, whether lush and emotional (The Constant Gardener) or cold and labyrinthine (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). He’s firmly rooted in the spy genre but has no interest in things like action, chases, stunts or needless sex like another famous but frequently hollow espionage franchise I can think of. He traffics in brilliant character development, genuine intrigue and chessboard dialogue, all of which coalesce into palpably suspenseful stories that matter.
AMC’s miniseries adaptation of his novel The Night Manager is a fantastic piece of storytelling, meticulously orchestrated, wildly exciting, laced with pathos, danger and humour that has you laughing several scenes later. Tom Hiddleston gives what has to be his best work so far as Jonathan Pine, the night manager of a Cairo hotel who meets, falls in love with and witnesses the brutal murder of a mysterious girl (Aure Atika) with ties to the Egyptian mob. He discovers that the one responsible for this act, albeit indirectly, is billionaire British arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), who he doesn’t necessarily openly declare vengeance on, but we get that notion from his anguished eyes as he looks at her corpse. Years later he gets a chance to exact some sort of plan against Roper and his organization when a plucky rogue MI6 operative (Olivia Colman) shadow recruits him to go deep cover to finally nail this biggest of fishes. So begins a deep, devilish and diabolical game of cat, mouse and spy as he gets about as close as he can to Roper, infiltrates the inner circle and finds himself right in the eye of the arms smuggling hurricane.
Hiddleston was rumoured for Bond at one point but honestly I’m glad he opted for stuff like this, his reptilian smoulder harbours a keen intelligence that blossoms with scripts that have a bit of weight to them as opposed to one liners, one night stands and explosions. He makes Pine a creature of flesh and blood who isn’t incorruptible and struggles to keep his eyes on the endgame while getting caught up with moral distractions along the way, like the plight of Roper’s elegent beau (Elizabeth Debicki, a striking actress of immense talent and one to watch out for). Laurie makes wry, mottled work of Roper and I like the unconventional casting. He apparently had the same idea as I’ve heard they had to talk him into doing the role, but I’m glad they did because he makes deft work of this verbose, colourful international monster. Scene stealer Tom Hollander gets some priceless lines in as his right hand man, and the sensational cast includes work from Alastair Petrie, Tobias Menzies, Douglas Hodge, David Harewood and more.
I think I counted zero genuine action sequences in this, save for one that serves a very specific purpose. Much of the story is dialogue, glances, meetings, arrivals, departures, clandestine sting setups and character interaction. That might prove boring to some but really it’s the meat of any story, while action should be the sauce and not the main course. Here we care about Pine and his situation from minute one, to the point that the suspense is hair raising. Each character is vividly drawn and written, the world brought to life in dimension and detail by cast and director Suzanne Bier alike. Le Carré himself is also a champion of the end result, which is an achievement in itself. A brilliant piece of television.