Tom Hiddleston delivers a star turn – just not a particularly Bond-like one – as the title character in this six-hour adaptation of John le Carre’s novel
Expecting James Bond, getting Leslie Howard? The immediate reverence given to the BBC’s six-part adaptation of John le Carre’s The Night Manager was often accompanied by talk that star Tom Hiddleston might be able to parlay his turn here into consideration as the next 007. And while that could still prove true, the feeling I got from Hiddleston was more Howard than Connery or Craig. That’s Leslie Howard, the English actor from the 1930s known for Pygmalion, The Petrified Forest and Gone With the Wind, in which he played Ashley Wilkes (a performance which has probably never reminded anyone of James Bond).
To be fair to Hiddleston, he’s perfectly fine as hotel night manager and Iraq war vet Jonathan Pine – showing a charismatic twinkle and a posh talent for making collared button-ups look amazing. Bond-like physicality is missing, though, and he doesn’t have a particularly lethal or dangerous screen presence here. That may or may not be helpful for The Night Manager but it would almost certainly be a requirement for Bond. If there’s anything of use to take away from all of that press about Hiddleston it’s probably a reminder that it’s usually best to just not pay it any attention. Let the work – the current, glowingly-received work – stand on its own minus any outside interference.
Thus, we’re able to dive completely into a distinct world of espionage across six mostly fabulous hours as adapted by David Farr and directed by Susanne Bier. The first entry, set in Cairo in 2011, does a masterful job of introducing Pine, which is hardly unimportant considering he’s basically undercover for the remainder of the series and therefore not entirely himself. Perhaps one of the weaker aspects of the story is relating to Pine’s motivation behind the sacrifices and risks he voluntarily subjects himself to in the face of significant danger. It’s in this initial episode that all of his reasons – sufficient or not – are established. This is certainly a key introduction to the story, and also one of its strongest parts. A jump ahead four years, with Pine now behind a hotel desk in Switzerland, serves as a vital epilogue to the hour.
As antagonists go, Hugh Laurie’s interpretation of rich businessman and illegal arms dealer Richard Roper is well up there on the scale of venality. Laurie is careful not to make him a caricature. I’m not sure it’s possible to say enough good things about this performance. It feels definitive and depressingly authentic. There are surely men like Roper in this world, and they most likely have similar arrangements with their governments as what we see in The Night Manager. Part of overlooking Pine’s potential lack of motivation comes from seeing the type of man Roper is, what he does, and simply being thankful anyone would try to stop him. Pine and his MI-6 cohort Angela Burr (a note-perfect Olivia Colman) are engaged in the classical battle of good versus evil, as scripted for the masses.
After a strong second installment, in which Pine finds a second identity as Thomas Quince and travels, first to Devon then to Majorca, Spain, the middle episodes have less fireworks. They string out the plot well enough but don’t hold one’s attention to the same degree as the first and last couple of hours in the program. For one, the character of Corky (Tom Hollander) is a necessary nuisance who still comes across like a cartoon against the more developed leads. As Roper’s girlfriend Jed, Elizabeth Debicki often recalls her earlier role of Jordan Baker in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, and that combined lack of depth or substance hinders otherwise pretty good characterization. Still, it’s clearly a plot-based saga highlighted by a pair of superb lead performances so the return to form in parts five and six do well to offset a sagging middle.
By that intense finale, which apparently differs from the book, the pieces seem to fall fittingly into place and with such satisfaction as to overlook the various imperfect parts of the miniseries. The Night Manager is a solid, enjoyable watch well worth the commitment. I don’t know if it does anything to expand its genre or format but, like the Hiddleston/Bond thing, it probably doesn’t have to in order to succeed at what it’s setting out to do. Don’t go in expecting something transformational or to find the next James Bond and appreciate The Night Manager for what it is – an entertaining six hours’ worth of entertainment with at least three very good performances.
The Night Manager has been out on disc in the UK for a while now, as it aired on the BBC much earlier than it did in stateside on AMC. Now Sony has put out a Blu-ray for Region A viewers, and it’s that edition under review here. One draw is that, unlike, what aired on AMC, these episodes are uncensored – a fact boldly noted on the front cover.
Some potentially minor frame-rate issues need to be addressed since British television broadcasts differently than in the U.S. I haven’t seen the UK discs but it seems that the proper 25fps is replicated whereas this release apparently opts for the usual 24fps, which would vary from the original BBC broadcast. Most won’t notice any difference.
Video is in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Quality is somewhat inconsistent. At times it looks very good but other instances exhibit hints of noise and a lack of expected depth and detail. Unless you’re a stickler for these relatively minute fluctuations then I imagine any issues will remain minimal. I noticed it wasn’t quite as strong of a presentation as what’s expected with new releases but it’s certainly not a catastrophe. Nothing in the way of damage was noted.
Audio also doesn’t quite impress but remains nonetheless functional. The English 5.1 DTS-HD MA track emits dialogue and musical cues without issue, just also sometimes without significant range and depth. There are subtitles available in English, English for the hearing impaired, and French.
No extras, disappointingly. A code for the Digital HD edition can be found inside the case.
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