Sunday, 27 March 2016
The Night Manager - spoiler-free reflections on a TV classic
The Night Manager, the sixth and final episode of which aired on BBC 1 this evening, is one of the finest British television series I've seen in a long while. In recent years I can only think of Broadchurch (the first series, definitely not the second) and Happy Valley which were similarly compelling. In contrast to those two series, The Night Manager was based on a novel,. It was written by the legendary John Le Carre, and I haven't read it, although evidently the process of updating the story to the present and for the screen has resulted in many changes.
Why has the story hooked me, and millions of others? Well, first of all, it offers a gripping blend of plot and character. Jonathan Pine, the enigmatic hotel manager with a military past, becomes involved with a beautiful woman who falls foul of a fabulously wealthy villain called Roper. When she is murdered, Pine is jolted out of his apparently comfortable lifestyle,and is persuaded by a British secret agent, played by Olivia Colman, to infiltrate Roper's organisation and bring him down.
That' s the basic set-up, but the detail is full of complications that are so skilfully handled. Part of the fascination of the story for TV viewers like me is surely the glimpse into the lifestyles of absurdly rich people such as Roper and his circle. They move from one exotic spot to another, flunkies cater to their every whim. Sounds great, but there's a price to be paid. I was reminded vividly of an exceptionally rich person I once came across. He lived in a fantastic mansion, which I found fascinating to visit, and had a glamorous girlfriend and a private yacht and plane. But the mansion had a panic room where they could hide from kidnappers, and military guards at the gate...
Back to The Night Manager. The relationships, for example between Colman and her colleagues,and between Hiddleston and Roper's lover, are done in enough depth to make us care about the characters,and about what happens to them. I was glad that the final episode matched the quality of the preceding five. One brief but memorable scene did owe something to The Long Good Friday, but without in any way compromising the originality of the storyline.
A script so good deserved great acting, and that's exactly what was supplied by Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hollander, and Elizabeth Debicki. I wasn't quite sure at first about Hugh Laurie as Roper; was he credibly nasty enough to play the part? My misgivings proved needless Laurie presented a character with great superficial charm, a caring father who has people killed for profit; he was at his best in the final episode, when his true nature came to the surface. Hollander was brilliantly creepy as Corky, and Hiddleston has really made a name for himself with this show. I wasn't sure before I started watching The Night Manager whether I'd love it. But I did,- I really did.