There’s more to this British-American TV series than being just a James Bond audition. Sadly, there’s also much less than meets the eye.
The Night Manager has all the ingredients we’ve come to expect from major television dramas. Co-produced between BBC and Showtime, the six-part series capitalises on international locations and its solid cast. The idea of adapting a John Le Carre novel, with Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, Tom Hollander and Elizabeth Debicki should work.
The series survives first contact with the viewer, right from the opening title sequence. The credits play against a string of high society visuals – champagne, high tea, pearl necklaces and high speed boats – that morph into the modern tools of war.
We’re introduced to Tom Hiddleston as the titular night manager of an upmarket hotel in Cairo during the Arab Spring of 2011. I’ve not read Le Carre’s source material, but despite it being released in 1993, the modernisation works decidedly in the adaptation’s favour.
It’s when the characters open their mouths, however, that The Night Manager falters. Episode One establishes the motivations for Hiddleston’s character as he sets out to infiltrate the world of illegal arms dealing. Once that’s in train, there’s precious little by way of character study or subtext in the script. You could watch this series with the volume turned down and it would still have the same emotional impact. Considering the amount of screentime a television series has to flesh these characters out, there’s often less than meets the eye in The Night Manager.
As each character literally speaks about what is happening in the plot at that time, we also miss a real opportunity to explore the modern arms trade business. The Night Manager plays in interesting space here, especially in how governments could be complicit in the approved transport of these arms, which speaks to a conspiracy that some arms dealers are are actively encouraged by western governments. When The Night Manager comes close to making a profound point on this subject, it falls frustratingly short.
The Night Manager is worth watching, but sadly, there’s little about this that will bring you back for a second viewing. I’ll gladly put the 2011 adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on the TV for a Sunday afternoon re-watch, and probably catch something I missed in the first dozen viewings. But I could only imagine myself re-watching The Night Manager in the event that Hiddleston is cast as James Bond (or if the series director, Susanne Bier, gets the greenlight for the next film).
Roger Moore had The Saint. Pierce Brosnan had Remington Steele. Daniel Craig had Layer Cake. Is The Night Manager strong enough to hand Hiddleston and Bier the keys to the Aston Martin? No. But in the absence of stronger contenders, that’s not to say that they wont land the gig.