Written in the wake of the Cold War’s end, at a time when the spy novel’s relevance was still in doubt, John le Carré’s 1993 novel The Night Manager takes as its subject the international arms trade. As such it proves that very relevance, spinning a timeless tale of greed and corruption that updates effortlessly to the modern era for the latest BBC adaptation of le Carré’s work.
The Night Manager follows the exploits of Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), a former British soldier who, as the story opens, serves as the night manager of a posh hotel in Cairo. Pine is drawn into international intrigue when a guest at the hotel, Sophie (Aure Atika) — who also happens to be the mistress of a ruthless local criminal — passes him incriminating documents about a major, illicit arms deal that may be targeted toward quashing the Arab Spring in Egypt. Pine’s efforts to tip off British intelligence and save Sophie meet with disaster. But years later, when working at a different hotel in Switzerland, Pine sees a way to redeem himself when the powerful, respected businessman behind the arms deal, Richard Onslow Roper (Hugh Laurie), checks into his hotel. Reaching out to the director of a minor British enforcement agency named Angela Burr (Olivia Colman), Pine embarks on an elaborate operation to take down Roper, whose ruthless, avaricious opportunism spreads misery all across the planet.
The Night Manager is a first-rate, beautifully shot production running to six episodes, and fans of the spy genre will find more than enough to relish in its stunning international scenery, taut suspense, and involved plotting. Hiddleston is quite accessible as the inscrutably charming Pine, but far more interesting is the viper’s nest of shady characters into which he inserts himself — especially, of course, Laurie, who couldn’t be more properly cast as a devious leader of industry who also happens to be something of a debonair sociopath. But there’s also Roper’s conflicted mistress Jed (Elizabeth Debicki), suspicious right-hand man Corky (Tom Hollander, in a spirited outing), and more posh villainy contributing to the intrigue. And then in Pine’s corner is Angela Burr, brought to scrappy life by Olivia Colman. Burr spearheads the intelligence world’s assault on Roper, whose secret connections in the British and American establishment turn her struggle into a David versus Goliath battle of wits.
Helmed confidently by Susanne Bier, The Night Manager is a lavish, well clocked entertainment that holds up among the best spy series of recent years, rating right alongside The Honourable Woman. Le Carré’s novels continue to translate powerfully to the screen; here’s hoping the trend continues.