There has been a lot of conversation around who should take up the mantle of James Bond since the apparent exit of Daniel Craig, and Tom Hiddleston is a name that has come up frequently as of late. Many are calling his performance in The Night Manager his unofficial audition for a license to kill, but perhaps it should instead be seen as a reason he shouldn’t take on the role of Bond. After making a name for himself in the Marvel universe as Loki, we are finally getting to see Hiddleston shake off the role of superhuman trickster to take on a role that is deeply human.
Based upon John le Carré’s 1993 novel, The Night Manager has been updated to reflect a more modern era. Jonathan Pine (Hiddleston) is the night manager of the upscale Nefertiti Hotel in Cairo, Egypt, during the tail end of the Arab Spring crisis. While trying to maintain order at the hotel while the country is embroiled in violence throws him into the path of the mistress of a local crime boss, and connects him to Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), businessman, arms dealer, and “the worst man in the world.” After tragedy strikes, Pine, a former military man, gets recruited by Angela Burr (Olivia Colman), a British intelligence agent who has been trying to take down Roper for years. Burr wants Pine to infiltrate Roper’s high end world of commodified war and destroy it from within. After some hustling, Pine is cautiously welcomed by Roper, who takes him on as his right-hand man. Despite an affable facade, Roper is not a man to be taken lightly, and is always seemingly ten steps ahead of everyone around him. As Pine races to put an end to a deal with enough fire power to start a war, Roper is a more than capable foil.
While it is not as cerebral or shaggy as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the last high-profile adaptation of a le Carré novel, The Night Manager is a sleek and sophisticated entry into the field of le Carré adaptations. It feels more like a supersized film than a television show, which unfortunately might be a bit of a detriment to the week-by-week format. It lags a bit in the middle episodes — there’s an awful lot of talking about how bad Roper is without much demonstration of his awfulness — but the payoff in the explosive final two episodes is well worth the wait. A few of the beats feel a little too familiar. Of course nearly every woman is going to throw herself at Pine. Of course he’s going to fall in love with Roper’s enigmatic girlfriend, Jed (Elizabeth Debicki). Of course Roper’s former number two (Tom Hollander) will be rightfully suspicious of Pine’s intentions. Despite these shortcomings, however, there is more than enough to hook an appreciative viewer. However familiar the genre hallmarks, The Night Manager is still a taut and elegant thriller. And, deftly directed by Susanne Bier (Open Hearts), this series is a stylish as they come.
However, the main attraction for the series is without a doubt the performances. Even when the plot lags a bit, every major player is eminently watchable. Hugh Laurie is as ferocious and yet still magnetic as a role like this requires, and the man doesn’t make a false step during his entire performance. He’s excellent in a part that requires him to be a cipher, and manages to be compelling as a sort of anti-Bond. Between this and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Debicki has cornered the market on stylish, morally grey women. Tobias Menzies and David Harewood both do well in limited roles, and Tom Hollander proves once again that he is one of Britain’s great underrated actors.
The main attraction, though, is Olivia Colman. Not only did writer David Farr have to gender swap the original character from the novel to include Colman, he also had to accommodate her pregnancy. However, this has turned her into a wholly unique creation. Her Burr is noble and principled, despite being not-so-by-the-book, and she cuts a clear wake through the corrupt government around her. Her pregnancy shapes her character, but she isn’t defined by it. Instead, she’s driven by guilt and years of hating Roper, and she isn’t going to let anything stand in her way as she is in pursuit of justice. Anyone who saw her incredible performance in Broadchurch won’t be surprised, but the The Night Manager is a great introduction to anyone who has somehow missed her until now.
While it isn’t perfect, The Night Manager is a sharp thriller especially sure to satisfy spans of the spy genre. Where the disappointing Spectre made ludicrous leaps in logic, The Night Manager is almost doggedly devoted to showing its steps, but that just makes the payoff feel earned. With something so deeply satisfying, it’s not so bad that it takes a little longer to get there.
The Night Manager is a six-week miniseries event on AMC, airing at 10 p.m. ET on Tuesdays.