I made the mistake of watching Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation just before I started The Night Manager. I really rather enjoyed Mission: Impossible; it's probably my favorite of the series in fact. It's a non-stop ride of thrills and magnificent set-pieces. No, the mistake wasn’t watching another Mission: Impossible film, it was the juxtaposition between that and The Night Manager that was difficult to adjust to. Calling The Night Manager slow would be an affront to snails. Its intentional languid, methodical pacing creeps across the screen.
I do not in anyway mean this as a critique but coming off the adrenaline rush of Mission: Impossible it took me a bit of time to settle in to The Night Manager’s pacing. In fact, about halfway through the first episode, I paused it for the night and wondered to myself if I’d be able to make it through. But when I came back the next evening with Mission Impossible out of my blood, I found myself really taken with The Night Manager’s story.
Tom Hiddleston plays Jonathan Pine, a former British soldier who is now working at a posh hotel in Cairo during what will become known as The Arab Spring. We learn all we need to know about his back story when, as he enters the hotel having crossed the city during heavy rioting with a sardonic, “I’ve seen worse.”
After a bit of formidable violence occurs at his hotel, he leaves Cairo for the relative safety of a hotel high up in the Swiss Alps. There he meets Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), a major player in the illegal arms trade who was, in part, the cause of the Cairo incident. Wanting to get back at Roper and his crew, Pine sends some discarded SIM cards to British Intelligence officer Angela Burr (Olivia Colman), who then recruits Pine into going undercover to take down Roper.
They give him a criminal background and create a scenario in which Pine is able to save Roper’s son from a violent end thus ingratiating him into Roper’s inner circle. There, Pine dives deeper and deeper into the criminal underground while trying to bring down Roper and save his own soul. It’s oh-so-very John LeCarre stuff and played exceedingly well by everyone.
Hiddleston, who could use this tape as his audition piece to be the next James Bond, is suave, captivating, and silently mysterious. Laurie is utterly charming and calculating as a man who has to stay six steps ahead of everyone to remain successful in what he does, and alive. He hides a dark, seething anger behind his eyes and you know he could explode at any moment. For much of the story, Colman is not given much to do other than move the plot along but she does an admirable job with what’s she’s given. The rest of the cast is terrific as well, especially Tom Hollander as Roper’s right hand man and Elizabeth Debicki as his lover who has a few secrets of her own.
It is exquisitely shot and stunning to look at. Set in such places as Cairo, Spain, Switzerland, and London, the backdrops to all this intrigue would be worth it even if the story was not. Not that there aren’t complaints to make about the story. There are numerous occasions when the spy machinations get a bit ahead of realty - especially how quickly and easily Pine becomes ensconced into Roper’s inner circle - but such are the ways of the spy story. To be hindered by such convinces of storytelling is to miss so much of what The Night Manger has to offer.
If American television is in the middle of a new Golden Age, then shows like The Night Manger prove that Britain is doing a great deal of gilding on their own.