Chanting crowds and flying shrapnel – The Night Manager reviewed

Radical former-spy John Le Carre’s The Night Manager started this week on BBC 1. Tony Aldis took a look.

From its opening credits those responsible for The Night Manager seem determined to ditch much of the image of George Smiley, his huge glasses and smoke clouded, rain drizzled world. Slick CGI images of weapons mixed with the glamour of shattering chandeliers and bubbling chilled liquids left me not alone in expecting 007 to emerge from his familiar gun barrel.

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What I got was not that far away. Starting with news footage of Hugh Laurie giving what seems like the obligatory humanitarianacceptance speech of any modern villian. And then cutting to an admittedly beautiful shot of Cairo. And then Tom Hiddleston dressed as the modern Englishman abroad gliding between chanting crowds and flying shrapnel in a supposed scene from the height of the Arab spring. On arriving at his workplace early to “lend a hand” he is soon to be seen in turn salving and organising guests in a display of assured professional and personal confidence that, with sledge hammer adeptness, leaves us clear on his considerable skills and superhuman tact in any given situation. Again the ghost of Bond circles above.

At this point I would like to say what follows was a reasonably crafted and interesting exploration of the hidden forces that were at work on all sides during this recent historic period. Instead,however, in some clumsily edited and scripted scenes (the surreptitious “glance” at a document while photocopying being particularly noteworthy) and including a shallow version of a favourite Hollywood plot line on the “kept” woman in peril, we finally find out that we have actually opened in flashback as the story shifts four years on, a continent away and with our protagonist carrying the damage and anger with him – if at first beneath the surface.

I will certainly try another episode or two in the hope that such a cast has not been wasted and perhaps my response is a bad reaction to a rushed and compromised “scene setting” episode. After all the casting of Olivia Colman as Burr seemed inspired and she has had little airtime so far. I even like the idea of Laurie as a megalomaniac, a tendency he showed himself eminently equipped to deliver during his years as House MD. I do at this point
however feel here is a series with too much of an eye on audience share – as, while stunning at times to look at, it seems to try way too hard to spotlight every “twist”. This in turn makes me wonder if in its current timid state the BBC is capable of delivering the kind of “updating” to this novel that would have given us drama somewhere near the calibre of a Spiral, rather than what seems may turn out to be a cut down attempt at Homeland.

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