Adapted from John le Carré’s 1993 novel – his first post-cold war espionage thriller – The Night Manager is BBC drama at its most lavish. Featuring an A-list cast headed up by Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman, a screenplay from acclaimed writer David Farr (Hanna, Spooks), and directed by the Danish director Susanne Bier whose 2010 film In A Better World won an Oscar for best foreign language film.
Farr updates le Carré’s novel from the early nineties using the political backdrop of The Arab Spring for a dramatic opening. It is 2011 and former British soldier Jonathan Pine (Hiddleston) is the night manager of a luxury hotel in Cairo. The Revolution against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is making his western guests nervous. Flirtatious Egyptian guest Sophie Alekan (Aure Atika) asks him to photocopy some documents. He is shocked to discover they appear to show an arms deal. The seller is Richard Roper (Lurie), a billionaire philanthropist.
Pine shares the documents with an Embassy contact who passes them to British Intelligence. The deal comes to the attention of Angela Burr (Colman), head of an international anti-arms unit in London. Burr attempts to intervene, but it is politically expedient for Roper’s sale to go forward. Better to arm the devils you know. This has tragic results for Pine who has become romantically involved with his source.
Four years later Pine is working as night manager at a resort in Switzerland when his path crosses once more with Roper’s.
This opening episode was all about setting up the chess board. Key pieces were introduced with just enough information to capture attention but a lot was held back. Pine is granted a convincing motivation to pass information about Roper’s activities in Switzerland to Burr, but we are given little to explain Burr’s particular enmity towards him. Undercurrents of class run through the tale. Pine plays the part of the archetypal English gentleman well, but when face to face with Roper and his ‘chums’ (including his officious right hand man played by Tom Hollander) he is instantly treated as a servant. Pine has an air of righteousness, but his profession suggests a man hiding from, or running away from the past and trying to isolate himself from people.
The gruff, northern Burr also has class issues to deal with in Westminster but with the added obstacle of her gender. A meeting with a ministerial aide is pointedly ended when the man retires to his club which has a no women policy. Glaring across the Thames at the gleaming MI-6 building, it is clear that Burr has been cast out into the relative wilds of Victoria by her inability to penetrate the old boys’ network of British Intelligence.
The episode ended with a meeting between Burr and Pine. When asked why he had turned in the documents in Cairo, Pine’s response was marvellously proper: “If there’s a man selling a private arsenal to an Egyptian crook and he’s English… and you’re English… and those weapons can cause a lot of pain to a lot of people. Then you just do it.”
Glossy and perfectly cast, with the sort of international locations that you would expect from a Bond film, The Night Manager was gripping and intriguing entertainment. This opening episode merely hinted at the larger story to come but contained enough to bait the hook and bring you back next week.
Did you tune in for The Night Manager episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on The Night Manager episode 2? Read Stuart’s review of episode 1 here.
Beginning in ‘Mallorca, Spain’, Nina Simone sings ‘Plain Gold Ring’ on the soundtrack as Jed (Elizabeth Debicki), the trophy girlfriend of arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), selects lingerie in hazy sunlight. The dressing is interrupted by a call. A strained conversation with her mother follows, Jed promises money and asks after ‘Billy’ (a son?). That she is not involved with Roper for pure romance is not a shock, but is Jed trapped in her situation or a gold digger?
Roper and guests visit a seaside restaurant. As Jed dances with his young son Daniel there is an attempted robbery that turns into a kidnapping. The men try to abscond with the boy, but Pine is watching them from a kitchen. The story then flashes back to explain how he came to be working as a chef in that particular Chiringuito.
To set up Pine with the perfect back story that will make him interesting to Roper, he is given a fake identity and sent to Devon with orders to make mischief. Arriving in a small village with a general store out of the nineteen fifties – they seem to only have eggs and a couple of tins of soup on the shelves, there is clearly a gap in the market for a SPAR – Pine sets himself up as a drug dealer to engineer a criminal background and a reason to leave the country.
So when he apparently foils the kidnapping attempt in Spain and gets severely beaten in the process, Roper is quick to bring Pine to his home while sinister fixer Lance Corcoran (Tom Hollander) runs a background check. Corcoran is not entirely convinced, with Pine telling him that if he is found to be “stringing us along” he will “hood you and hang you up by those lovely ankles until the truth falls out of you by gravity.”
This was another fine episode building intrigue and character depth. Colman’s intense performance makes it clear that Burr’s vendetta is personal even as reasons remain elusive. The Etonian ranks of ‘the River House’ – the informal name for MI-6’s Vauxhall HQ – casually condescend to Burr and her “modest enforcement agency”, but she uses this condescension against them. Teaming with American agent Joel Steadman (David Harewood), Burr feeds them information but keeps Pine’s undercover work hidden. This is a dangerous game – a death in episode 1 may have been due to leaked information. One might reasonably question the how wise it was to discuss Pine after a meeting with MI-6, standing by the Thames in front of one of the most CCTV camera encrusted buildings on the planet. But it was a nice shot.
The Night Manager plays with the tropes of escapist fantasy spy thrillers while also having the grit of more serious espionage dramas. From the elegant opening titles – an exploding RPG transformed into a cocktail glass, a spinning tea set becomes the barrel of a revolver – to exotic locations including, in this episode, Mallorca, Switzerland, and… er… Devon, sexual conquests and Hiddlestone’s tailoring, the spirit of Bond is invoked. However, the plotting and psychological complexity of the characters is all le Carré.
It is a difficult balancing act, but the series has deftly skipped across the high wire so far. We will see if it continues to impress as the stakes are increased.
Did you tune in for The Night Manager episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on The Night Manager episode 3? Read Stuart’s review of episode 2 here.
After foiling a (staged) kidnap attempt, Jonathan Pine has infiltrated suspected arms dealer Richard Roper’s Mallorca home – but men as powerful as Roper do not achieve such heights without some amount of paranoia and Pine is closely observed.
Pine needs his wits to get information to Angela Burr – who recruited him to go undercover. His request to take Roper’s son into town is granted, but they are accompanied by suspicious armed chaperones. Clutching a tourist guide, the pregnant Burr passes unnoticed by the bodyguards allowing Pine to deliver a coded message warning that Roper’s right hand man Corkorian is a threat. To counter this Burr’s team create suspicion that Corkorian is alienating business partners with his drinking and flamboyant homosexuality. Roper’s Spanish contact has become wracked with guilt following his daughter’s suicide and the team exploit this to turn him and plant suspicions.
A second front of intrigue opens in Westminster’s corridors of power. Burr’s boss, senior civil servant Rex Mayhew, is keeping her operation (code named Limpet) secret from MI-6, but when he’s called into a meeting with the parliamentary under-secretary he’s pressured to drop the operation by MI-6 and the CIA. Mayhew refuses, but it seems clear that elements in the Intelligence community do not want Roper investigated.
Pine is moving closer to Roper’s girlfriend Jed. This is a dangerous flirtation and Jed also has secrets to keep. Investigating Roper’s office, Pine discovers a blond hair suggesting she is also collecting information on the operation despite her earlier insistence that she has no interest in Roper’s business. The question of why and for whom is left frustratingly unanswered.
This episode saw Pine move from the fringes into the heart of Roper’s operation through guile and manipulation. In kicking Corkorian out of the nest, a potentially deadly enemy has been set up. It is further hinted that Roper’s arms deal may in fact be unofficially backed from within the British establishment. If MI-6 become aware of the identity of Burr’s inside man, things are likely to get very difficult for Pine.
As the reptilian but charming Roper, Hugh Laurie got more screen time this episode. Starring in the US series House moved Laurie away from purely comic roles but The Night Manager positively buries such associations. Laurie was particularly terrific as Roper when explaining his nihilistic worldview: “children grow up thinking the adult world is ordered, rational, fit for purpose. It’s crap. Becoming a man is realising that it’s all rotten. Realising how to celebrate that rottenness, that’s freedom”. The speech was laced with threat, but we have yet to see Roper’s ruthlessness at close range.
Episode 3 ended with Pine as a new fixture in Roper’s organisation, but with the threat of Burr’s operation being blown open by establishment interests. Pine’s position is also made precarious by his relationship with Jed. How much does Roper actually know? Is his acceptance of Pine into the inner sanctum actually an example of keeping his enemies closer? Episode four cannot come quickly enough.
Did you tune in for The Night Manager episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on The Night Manager episode 4? Read Stuart’s review of episode 3 here.
The Night Manager episode 4 will be forever known to a section of the actor’s committed fan base as the one where you see Tom Hiddleston’s buttocks. But it was also the episode where things started to get dangerous.
Pine (Hiddleston) receives another new identity as Andrew Birch, a proxy for the latest arms deal arranged by Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). Roper has evaded justice to date because of how skilfully he hides behind front men.
It had been simmering in the previous episode but Pine’s attraction to Roper’s girlfriend Jed (Elizabeth Debicki) finally boiled over in a torrid bedroom scene. One might think he would have more sense given how his previous relationship with an arms dealer’s girlfriend ended.
Despite attempts to be clandestine, the flirtation has not gone unnoticed by the poisonous Corcoran (Tom Hollander) who nearly blows everything wide open in an uncomfortable restaurant scene with a toast to “the lovers” and thinly veiled taunts to Roper “the blind man who cannot see the human bloody hand grenade in front of his bloody eyes.” Pine manages to emerge from the situation with grace, but has a seed of doubt been planted in Roper? Whether those doubts are regarding Jed and Pine or concern ‘good old Corky’ becoming a drunken liability is unclear.
There is a growing sense that Pine is attracted to adrenaline and danger, which may be why he is eager to jump into bed with Jed despite it being obviously a very stupid thing to do. Pine is also clearly seduced by Roper’s lavish lifestyle. When he is shown a bank statement for the company Roper has put him in charge of, you can practically see dollar signs flash in his eyes.
Finally we learned some of the reasons for Burr’s personal hatred of Roper with a harrowing tale of a gas attack on a school in Iraq. Roper was not behind this in any way, but he was present and saw the horrific effects of mustard gas and sarin on children – and it was because of this that he decided there was a market to sell sarin. Burr saw dead children. Roper saw a business opportunity. It is a scene powerfully played by Olivia Colman and a reminder of the horror funding Roper’s lifestyle.
In London, a clumsy attempt to intimidate Burr’s boss Mayhew (Douglas Hodge) only reinforces his resolve and increases her funding. Pine has supplied Burr with a paper trail demonstrating that Roper is being aided in his arms deals by corruption from within MI-6. In fact this corruption may go beyond the ‘River House’, when Mayhew reveals the evidence to the parliamentary under-secretary who wants Burr replaced, the news gets back to Roper. Whitehall is leaking all over the place. With MI-6 now aware that there is a mole in Roper’s operation, Burr’s team must scramble to divert suspicion away from Pine.
When Burr’s team intercept a late night phone call between Jed and Pine and attempt to pull him out of the operation Pine has other ideas. Acting the maverick he exposes them without revealing his own complicity. Is he going rogue? How much do we really know about this man?
Did you tune in for The Night Manager episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on The Night Manager episode 5? Read Stuart’s review of episode 4 here.
The Night Manager’s previous episode saw Jonathan Pine apparently going rogue when his intelligence handlers tried to pull him out of Roper’s operation, leaving Angela Burr unsure if Pine has been turned.
Vested and powerful interests in the British establishment want Roper’s arms deal to succeed – there is talk of ‘the national interest’ but really it comes down to people lining their pockets. Despite Burr’s efforts to keep the investigation secret, Roper knows there is a leak in his operation and suspects everyone. He reveals his suspicions to Pine, stating “anyone can betray anyone, Jonathan”. Is this an act of tactical stupidity on Roper’s part, or does he enjoy an atmosphere of misrule?
For four episodes we have seen only the glamour of the arms trade: Roper’s private island; his jet; Michelin starred restaurants; tailored suits; a trophy girlfriend with a wardrobe of diaphanous kaftans. Who wouldn’t be tempted by such a life? However, as Roper brings his prospective buyer to a remote area of Turkey near the border with Syria, we finally witness the brutal reality of both his trade and his personality. Posing for photo opportunities with refugee children, while trading in the very weapons that have displaced these people.
With Pine serving as ringmaster, Roper stages a demonstration of his wares that is pure circus. Tracer bullets light up the night sky, drones are shot out of the air with missiles, cluster bombs turn a village into dust, and in a showstopper finale a napalm drop turns the landscape into a vision out of Dante. Later Pine will learn that the deserted village was recently inhabited, its denizens forcibly evicted to provide Roper with a sandcastle to kick over. However, not all the inhabitants were able to leave in time.
As Roper, Hugh Laurie has, until this point, been charming with a dash of sinister – but in The Night Manager episode 5 his mask slips to reveal something very ugly. He has his girlfriend Jed flown in and trotted out like a prize filly in front of mercenaries to humiliate her. In private he becomes abusive. His former right hand man Corky – whose role Pine supplanted – is on hand to further stoke suspicions. Knowing that Corkorian suspects him of having an affair with Jed, Pine desperately tries to get information to Burr and move Roper’s suspicions towards ‘good old Corky’.
Back in London, Burr is increasingly politically isolated. MI-6 chief Dromgoole has her under conspicuous surveillance and arrives on her doorstep late at night to make vague threats. When Pine’s information that Roper is using an aid convoy to transport his arms across the Turkish border, Burr has a last chance to snare her quarry.
Director Susanne Bier switched out the the glossy sun drenched palate of earlier episodes for desert sand and khaki, taking The Night Manager into an uglier world of refugee camps and mercenaries. As the episode came to an end it found Roper smugly triumphant: “they didn’t watch the cups you see”, he tells Pine. Still with his cover apparently intact, Pine is horrified to find out their next destination is Cairo and the very hotel where he was once the night manager.
Did you tune in for The Night Manager episode 5? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Spoilers for The Night Manager episode 6 below. Still catching up? Read Stuart’s review of episode 5 here.
Angela Burr and Jonathan Pine both find themselves in tight spots at the beginning of this concluding episode.
After failing to find arms in Roper’s aid convoy, Burr is hauled in front of an enquiry facing the very people she suspects of covertly working with him. Meanwhile, Pine is unwillingly back in Cairo where Roper’s associate Freddie Hamid may recognise and connect him to the girlfriend killed for leaking details of a deal four years earlier.
But Pine and Burr gain a second chance to expose Roper – dependent upon the stealing of some documents from his hotel safe. To do this, Pine must ask Jed to risk her life, find the safe’s code and take the documents without Roper discovering they are missing.
The Night Manager episode 6 brought the series to a suspenseful conclusion, but also raised nagging questions. The most perplexing being ‘is Roper an idiot?’ Aware his operation has a mole, who should he suspect is feeding information to his enemies? Jed, his girlfriend of some years; Sandy Langbourne, the business associate with almost as much to lose; Corky, the loyal psychopath; or Pine, a charming stranger who seems extremely interested in his business?
Roper was awfully quick to accept Pine’s story that Corky was the traitor and that he killed him in self defence. But was Roper playing a long game to smoke out those acting against his interests? A veiled conversation with Pine in this episode suggested this when Roper tells Pine “even traitors can be forgiven.”
However, when he finally stumbled into the snare Pine had set up for him Roper seemed genuinely shocked. “It’s a very rare thing Jonathan Pine, for me to trust a person. But you were special. I knew it the first moment I saw you.” Almost touching were it not for the fact that he had just had his girlfriend brutally tortured.
As Roper was finally caught, Burr dryly remarked “he deserves it”, but what has she actually achieved? One less arms dealer perhaps, but the trade remains. Those in Westminster who greased wheels for Roper continue to be in power. And what of the three hundred million pounds Pine took as leverage to keep Jed alive? He doesn’t give this back. Where did it go? Will Pine’s bank manager be very happy come Monday morning? If so, does this knock the shine off his halo?
Performances have gone a long way towards keeping our disbelief suspended. As Pine, Hiddleston brought a stylish blankness to the character making it easy to suspect that he might become seduced by the glamour of Roper’s world. Hugh Laurie convinced us Roper was more cunning than he was and always ensured an edge of cold steel was visible behind his charm. Olivia Colman as Burr brought earthiness, grounding the series in a recognisable reality whenever private jets and island retreats threatened to make it seem like fantasy.
In The Night Manager, there has been tension between the shadow world of espionage and the glamorous, sun drenched, playboy fantasy of Roper’s world. Director Susanne Bier has done a tremendous job making this world compelling and attractive, but perhaps at the expense of getting dirty in the grease and blood of the arms trade. Bier and writer David Farr pulled the story together with an exciting climax – but one that was a little bit too neat.
Did you tune in for The Night Manager episode 5? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!