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The Night Manager review: the BBC has gone all James Bond with Le Carré
C airo, January 2011, the Arab spring. Firecrackers are going off, bricks thrown, cars torched, automatic guns fired in the air. An Englishman in a blue shirt walks through it all, ducking and weaving a little, but not scared, more thrilled; he has seen worse, in Iraq when he was a soldier there. Where is he going? To work, at the Nefertiti hotel, where he is The Night Manager (BBC1, Sunday).
Tom Hiddleston is a perfect Jonathan Pine – polite, calm, charming, confident but self-deprecating, a little mysterious, very English and astonishingly handsome (in many ways, he reminds me a bit of myself). A beautiful woman called Sophie Aleka flashes her secret documents at him, about her wicked boyfriend Freddie Hamid buying an arsenal of weapons from an even wickeder man – “the worst man in the world”, she calls him – named Richard Roper, in order to crush the popular uprising.
Jonathan does the decent thing – did I mention he was decent? – and shows the documents to his chum at the British embassy. Then he takes Sophie to a safe house out of town. “Why do you sit so far away?” she purrs. Out of respect, he says. “Is that why you came all the way here, to respect me?” I don’t think so. She tells him he has many different voices, he’s always changing. Anyway, “I want one of your many selves to sleep with me tonight, you can choose which one,” she says. He does, decently.
Is it all getting a bit Milk Tray ad, circa 1973? Or Fry’s Turkish Delight maybe, because of Sophie, full of eastern promise? No, because Sophie is then murdered. And we pop back to Blighty, where no-nonsense Angela Burr, head of a mysterious intelligence agency that operates separately and seemingly at odds with MI6 and has an ongoing vendetta against Roper, brings things back to earth and England, with a bump. Literally later, she’s pregnant (because Olivia Colman who plays her is). That couldn’t have happened in John le Carré’s original; his Burr is a he; Leonard.
The alterations and updates are skilfully and almost invisibly tailored by David Farr, who has adapted the novel. Burr’s sex change; the Arab spring (which fits so perfectly with Cairo, I’m sure Le Carré would have done the same had the Arab spring happened by 1993 when his book was published), Pine’s previous tours of Iraq instead of Northern Ireland; the switch from Zurich up the road to Zermatt. Zermatt’s better on the screen – prettier, a bit more Bond.
Yes, it has all been nudged about 10% – 007% perhaps – in that direction. (That Farr was a Spooks writer isn’t surprising). But Le Carré can get knotted en-route from page to screen (certainly this television long form suits him); I’m not complaining about any loosening going on, sexing-up of documents or anything else. Nor was Le Carré - complaining - in the Guardian on Saturday. It gets really fun in the Alps, four years on. Pine now works at the rather lovely Meisters hotel, where guess who is helicoptering in with his entourage for a visit – Richard Roper, the worst man in the world, remember. Hugh Laurie is the best worst man, a splendid villain, bullish and bullying, not overdone though, just right. Tom Hollander is on fabulousness, as Roper’s camp fixer. Roper’s beautiful American missus, Jed, stretches a bubbly leg out of the freestanding bath, demanding more champagne. Not enough naked wet Jed for the night? Here she is again, having a late-night skinny dip in the pool.
Time for Pine to snap into action, show what he’s got under that understated posh English charm. Show her? No … yes … not yet. But he hasn’t forgotten Cairo; he must avenge Sophie’s death. He takes out the book (the Letters of TE Lawrence, of course, it might have been Kipling) where he put Angela Burr’s number and gives her a call. She heads out, to recruit him.
No need to recruit me, I’m already thoroughly signed up for the duration. Sunday night War and Peace void filled. Splendidly.
Next, briefly, a handsome blond English former soldier in a blue shirt strides confidently along a bustling street in a hot Muslim country … hang on, haven’t we done this? Not Cairo, but Lahore in Pakistan, and not The Night Manager but Kipling’s Indian Adventure (BBC2, Saturday). Patrick Hennessey totally is the real Jonathan Pine but with a different mission: to repair the damage done to the reputation of his literary hero, Rudyard Kipling. Not an apologist for the ills of the empire, says Hennessey, but a man who mocked it mercilessly and had a deep understanding of (what was then all) India, its people and culture. Plus, he wrote exceedingly good stories.
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'The Night Manager': EW review
Jonathan Pine is a former British soldier looking to escape the chaos and crookedness of our times. Yet quagmire chases him, and he can’t resist falling into it. While working the graveyard shift at a Cairo hotel during the Arab Spring, Sophie (Aure Atika), an equally worldweary woman sultry with danger, begs a favor that arouses his conscience, and other parts of him, too. The consequences draw Pine (Tom Hiddleston) into a twilight realm and suck us deep into The Night Manager , an ironic and engrossing saga about dark-knight heroism that continues an extraordinary year for smartly written, acting-driven short-form serials (see: American Crime ; The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story ).
The novel The Night Manager , written by British spy-fi master John le Carré in 1993, engaged the new reality of post–Cold War geopolitics and reflected a genre in transition. The miniseries updates the premise and speaks to a moment dull and dim with antiheroes. After the aforementioned Egyptian business leads to tragedy, Pine runs away again, taking post at a remote mountain resort. But a call to do-gooding—and opportunity for score-settling—finds him anew one evening when bogeyman arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) arrives with Jed (Elizabeth Debicki), his pale and beautiful girlfriend, and Corky (Tom Hollander), his foul, suspicious chief of staff. Duty and vendetta needle Pine to risk tattling on them. A British intelligence officer named Burr (Olivia Colman) prods him to take it further. Soon, Pine has masked himself with a false identity—a rogue named Andrew Birch—and infiltrated Roper’s family-tight operation in Palma de Mallorca, an island paradise full of temptations. Can Pine rope Roper without getting exposed or scorched by so much evil under the sun? Such is the screw-tightening suspense, impressively directed by Danish helmer Susanne Bier.
The Night Manager comes on like film noir, the kind where a flawed Everyman in a fallen world is seduced by desperate femmes fatales and a mesmerizing villain. But the warm, classical visual aesthetic is your first sign that this show has limited interest in affirming the cynicism of the genre or the current pop zeitgeist. Hiddleston’s deceptively passive Pine is a decidedly different take on the cool, privately tortured undercover operative at risk of losing himself in the murk of his work. Burr’s decency and patriotism (and her pregnancy) recall Frances McDormand’s Marge from Fargo . Sophie and Jed aren’t tempter vixens. Like Pine, they’re trapped souls who desire full, righteous lives—not hollow, sell-out lives.
Laurie’s Roper is the slyest creation. He’s an anti-Bond villain to Pine’s anti-Bond hero. He captivates us not with pure evil but with the possibility that he might only be a slimy international businessman, one with sincere romantic, philanthropic, and fatherly dimensions. Watching this death merchant delight in producing violent spectacle, collecting youth and beauty and grooming Pine to be the new “star” of his sick show, you wonder if Laurie is playing an arms dealer or a movie producer. A clever fable of heroic renewal, The Night Manager gives us a redemptive journey into a heart of darkness and a portrait of a genre mired in shadow pining for daylight. A–
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The Night Manager
By john le carré, by john le carré read by david case, category: spy novels | suspense & thriller | historical fiction, category: spy novels | suspense & thriller | historical fiction | audiobooks.
Aug 15, 2017 | ISBN 9781524796952 | 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 --> | ISBN 9781524796952 --> Buy
Sep 16, 2015 | ISBN 9781101968352 | ISBN 9781101968352 --> Buy
May 31, 2016 | 1108 Minutes | ISBN 9781524735371 --> Buy
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Aug 15, 2017 | ISBN 9781524796952
Sep 16, 2015 | ISBN 9781101968352
May 31, 2016 | ISBN 9781524735371
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About The Night Manager
Now an AMC miniseries • The acclaimed novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Legacy of Spies and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy John le Carré, the legendary author of sophisticated spy thrillers, is at the top of his game in this classic novel of a world in chaos. With the Cold War over, a new era of espionage has begun. In the power vacuum left by the Soviet Union, arms dealers and drug smugglers have risen to immense influence and wealth. The sinister master of them all is Richard Onslow Roper, the charming, ruthless Englishman whose operation seems untouchable. Slipping into this maze of peril is Jonathan Pine, a former British soldier who’s currently the night manager of a posh hotel in Zurich. Having learned to hate and fear Roper more than any man on earth, Pine is willing to do whatever it takes to help the agents at Whitehall bring him down—and personal vengeance is only part of the reason why. Praise for The Night Manager “A splendidly exciting, finely told story . . . masterly in its conception.” — The New York Times Book Review “Intrigue of the highest order.” — Chicago Sun-Times “Richly detailed and rigorously researched . . . Le Carré’s gift for building tension through character has never been better realized.” — People “Grimly fascinating, often nerve-wracking, and impossible to put down.” — Boston Herald
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK • AMC Miniseries event April 19 Tues 10/9c John le Carré, the legendary author of sophisticated spy thrillers, is at the top of his game in this classic novel of a world in chaos. With the Cold War over, a new era of espionage has begun. In the power vacuum left by the Soviet Union, arms dealers and drug smugglers have risen to immense influence and wealth. The sinister master of them all is Richard Onslow Roper, the charming, ruthless Englishman whose operation seems untouchable. Slipping into this maze of peril is Jonathan Pine, a former British soldier who’s currently the night manager of a posh hotel in Zurich. Having learned to hate and fear Roper more than any man on earth, Pine is willing to do whatever it takes to help the agents at Whitehall bring him down—and personal vengeance is only part of the reason why. Praise for The Night Manager “A splendidly exciting, finely told story . . . masterly in its conception.” — The New York Times Book Review “Intrigue of the highest order.” — Chicago Sun-Times “Richly detailed and rigorously researched . . . Le Carré’s gift for building tension through character has never been better realized.” — People “Grimly fascinating, often nerve-wracking, and impossible to put down.” — Boston Herald
Listen to a sample from The Night Manager
Also by john le carré.
About John le Carré
JOHN LE CARRÉ was born in 1931. For six decades he wrote novels that came to define our age. The son of a confidence trickster, he spent his childhood between boarding school and the London underworld. At sixteen he found… More about John le Carré
Category: spy novels | suspense & thriller | historical fiction, category: spy novels | suspense & thriller | historical fiction | audiobooks, you may also like.
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THE NIGHT MANAGER
by John le Carré ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 7, 1993
Le Carre returns to the same subject as his disappointingly episodic The Secret Pilgrim—the fate of espionage in the new world order—but now looks forward instead of backward, showing a not-quite innocent mangled between that new order and the old one, whose course le Carre has so peerlessly chronicled for 30 years. Jonathan Pine, night manager at a Cairo hotel, helps Arab playboy Freddie Hamid's mistress Madame Sophie photocopy papers linking him to arms mogul Richard Roper and, while he's at it, makes an extra copy to send to a friend in the Secret Service—only to find that the leak has gotten back to Freddie and that Jonathan's belated, guilty devotion to Sophie can't protect her from a fatal beating. Six months later, Jonathan, now working in Geneva, meets Roper in person and, vowing revenge, volunteers for Leonard Burr's fledgling government agency as the inside man who can supply actionable details of Roper's next arms- for-drugs deal. With the help of Whitehall mandarin Rex Goodhew, Burr sets up a plausibly shady dossier for Jonathan and stages the kidnapping of Roper's son so that Jonathan can foil the snatch and get invited aboard Roper's yacht. But even as Jonathan, still grieving for Sophie, finds himself attracted to Roper's bedmate Jed Marshall and overriding Burr's orders to stay out of Roper's papers, the boys in Whitehall—divided between independents like Goodhew, who want the old agencies broken up, and his cold-warrior nemesis Geoffrey Darker, who insists on maintaining centralized authority—are squabbling over control of the mission, with dire results for Jonathan, whose most dangerous enemies turn out to be his well-meaning masters back home. Despite the familiarity of the story's outlines, le Carre shows his customary mastery in the details—from Jonathan's self-lacerating momentum to the intricacies of interagency turf wars—and reveals once again why nobody writes espionage fiction with his kind of authority.
Pub Date: July 7, 1993
Page Count: 416
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1993
SUSPENSE | THRILLER | SUSPENSE | ESPIONAGE | GENERAL THRILLER & SUSPENSE
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by John le Carré ; edited by Tim Cornwell ; illustrated by John le Carré
by John le Carré
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BOOK TO SCREEN
THEN SHE WAS GONE
by Lisa Jewell ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 24, 2018
Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.
Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.
Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s ( I Found You , 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.
Pub Date: April 24, 2018
Page Count: 368
Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018
GENERAL THRILLER & SUSPENSE | SUSPENSE | FAMILY LIFE & FRIENDSHIP | SUSPENSE
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by Lisa Jewell
YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW
by Lisa Jackson ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 1, 2012
Melodramatic and filled with a lot of pointless meanderings, but Jackson’s many fans will still enjoy it.
New York Times’ bestselling author Jackson puts her touch on this dark thriller and tale of forbidden romance.
Ava Church Garrison has it all. She’s beautiful, a near-genius and wealthy. Married to a handsome attorney and living in her family’s ancestral home on a small island off the coast of Washington, her future couldn’t be brighter, except for one small problem. It appears to everyone, including Ava, that she’s lost her mind. It all started when she lost her child. Two-year-old Noah wandered out of the house, and authorities believe he fell into the icy water and drowned. But Ava won’t accept this. She keeps searching for Noah, her searches prompted by sounds and visions she can’t control. No matter what she does, Ava keeps hearing Noah call for help and sees him toddling off toward the dock. To add to Ava’s issues, she has her loony-bin-worthy family living with her. Her cousin, Jewel-Anne, wheelchair-bound following an accident that killed Ava’s only brother, and the rest of her family treat her like she’s a basket case. Even her best friend (who's Jewel-Anne’s nurse) and the household help are creepy. In fact, everyone in the book qualifies as a character out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Plus, there’s also the little problem of the escaped madman, who may or may not still be hiding on the island, and Ava’s therapist, a woman she fears has grown too close to Ava’s husband, Wyatt. Soon, the landscape is littered with bodies, and Ava is rapidly finding herself the target of a police investigation. With only the help of a newly hired hand on the estate, she tries to prove she’s not crazy and find her son in the bargain. Jackson’s book is crammed with suspects and a palpable air of creepiness, but readers will spot a number of inconsistencies in the story and ultimately grow weary of the way she draws out the action with unnecessary dialogue and details.
Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2012
Review Posted Online: July 21, 2012
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012
GENERAL THRILLER & SUSPENSE | SUSPENSE | SUSPENSE
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by Lisa Jackson
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‘The Night Manager’ review: John le Carré’s 1993 spy novel comes to AMC as thrilling miniseries
Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston in John Le Carré's "The Night Manager," a six-week miniseries from AMC based on the 1993 novel. Credit: AMC / The Ink Factory / Des Willie
WHEN | WHERE Six-week miniseries premieres Tuesday night at 10 on AMC
WHAT IT’S ABOUT There’s a beautiful, mysterious woman. An uber-evil supervillain. And a dashing hero on a mission. It’s global — and it’s personal. Exotic locales, luxe cars, endless Champagne and, naturally, oodles of sex.
Everything a stylish spy saga needs.
Best-selling novelist John le Carré would know, after his own MI6 career, his ’60s breakthrough book, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” and his ’70s BBC triumph, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” But his 1993 tale, “The Night Manager,” comes to TV in a different time than the author’s famed Cold War tales — now encompassing the Middle East weapons trade, the mighty new international billionaire, even commanding women in positions of authority.
But it all comes down to le Carré’s classic character: one conflicted man. Played by Tom Hiddleston, a movie star (“Thor,” “I Saw the Light”) compressing his big-screen potency for small-screen tension, the army-trained title character has no trouble gliding from nocturnal hotel oversight to becoming “the second worst man in the world.” Enlisted as such by a tenacious lone-wolf spy boss (Olivia Colman, “Broadchurch”), his quarry will of course be Numero Uno — a global magnate played just as tightly by Hugh Laurie (“House”), the force ultimately responsible for a murder our man undertakes to avenge, mere collateral damage amid the day-to-day pursuit of obscene wealth.
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Can he worm his way into the billionaire’s inner circle? Let the cat-and-mouse games begin.
MY SAY Le Carré, 84, pronounces himself pleased, in a gushy press-kit letter, with this production, which first aired on the BBC. And why wouldn’t he be? He’s got high-level performers, essaying smartly taut yet sexily languorous scripting (David Farr, “MI-5”), quite grippingly directed (Susanne Bier), in picturesque locales (Mallorca, Switzerland, Morocco). And, oh yes, it’s all produced by his sons Simon and Stephen Cornwell.
Nepotism pays. The real le Carré unreels here, with savvy updates (re-gendering the book’s male spy boss) strengthening his nail-biting storytelling and ever keen focus on the toxic bureaucracy behind even the most opulent intrigue.
BOTTOM LINE Spend six nights, get thrills free.
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By Emily Nussbaum
There’s a lot to be said for the six-episode cable drama. If it doesn’t work, no great loss—that’s only two nights wasted, not several years. It’s a welcome gift in an era when too many shows arrive with the scary caveat “The fifth episode is when things get good!”
Brevity is one advantage of AMC’s “The Night Manager,” an elegant but ultimately empty John le Carré adaptation, starring Hugh Laurie. Based on le Carré’s 1993 spy novel of the same name, “The Night Manager” has been updated, from the Colombian drug wars to the Arab Spring. But there’s little here that’s new under the Egyptian sun. The story concerns a repressed, beautiful, tormented but decent hotel manager in Cairo named Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), who gets recruited to infiltrate a criminal cartel. The first episode features overwrought sequences of doomed love, as the camera peeks showily through spiral bannisters; the second is when things get good. But even then the appeal is pure mood: in this high-end universe, everything feels at once corrupt, delectable, and melancholy, with that quality of “world-weariness” which serves as an aesthetic simulacrum of sophistication. The show is what many American viewers consider adult drama—it’s British and expensive-looking and involves movie stars, among other things—but it’s just an old recipe made with artisanal ingredients. If you’ve been watching the FX series “The Americans,” a far riskier, more wrenching examination of similar themes, it’s hard to take “The Night Manager” seriously.
Still, Hugh Laurie has a wonderful time grimacing nihilistically as Richard Roper, “the worst man in the world,” a philanthropist who is also a secret arms dealer. Elizabeth Debicki is excellent as his self-aware arm candy, Jed, lending vulnerability and humor to a character who would otherwise make very little sense. Sadly, Olivia Colman is wasted as Angela Burr, the pregnant head of a British intelligence agency—and the character’s gender switch (in the book, Burr was male) is a progressive gesture without any weight. The change of venue to the Middle East, too, feels well intentioned but artificial. As episodes pass, the plot twists become increasingly hard to buy, since Roper makes such clumsy errors in judgment—like ignoring “secret” lovers who are practically making “let’s do it” finger gestures—that he comes across as less Dr. No and more Mr. Magoo.
You may want to gaze into Hiddleston’s Aegean-blue eyes anyway. The show is engineered to make you want things—like “Downton Abbey,” it’s essentially aspirational. You’ll want a luxurious vacation in Zermatt or Majorca (but not in Cairo or dreary London). You’ll want pale-blue lingerie. You’ll want to kiss someone so irresistible that you offer him top-secret documents and answer personal questions, even though you have no reasonable motive to do either of those things. You’ll likely want Hiddleston to play James Bond, the role for which this whole show operates as an audition.
“The Night Manager” works best during liquid scenes of chaos, particularly one strong early sequence in which a fancy dinner party turns into a terrifying kidnapping. As the characters dance, the camera becomes one of them, letting our eyes flicker, in succession, over a power broker spinning his nanny; the man’s wife seething in the background; and then a mistress in a moment of fraught joy, swaying with her lover’s little boy. Lovely, allusive passages like that suggest a much better, more subtle adaptation nested inside this one. Silk and secret codes do satisfy certain appetites for two nights. But the spell fades fast, like a boozy sunset.
As I watched, my mind kept drifting to a different British-made six-episode series, “Happy Valley,” which haunted me for months after I watched it, particularly a final sequence that was more unsettling than many entire shows. It’s difficult to write about television like this—adult crime thrillers—because, inevitably, it means ruining plot twists. So fair warning: this review contains spoilers. Stop reading and go watch “Happy Valley” now, on Netflix, because it—especially in its second season—does precisely what “The Night Manager” doesn’t: it finds something original to say about evil. It’s another beautifully produced show, full of magnetic (if less model-pretty) faces. But it’s a keeper.
“Happy Valley” is the story of a grandmotherly cop, Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire), whose daughter was raped, gave birth to a son, and then committed suicide. Cawood is raising her grandson, Ryan, with good intentions but also with an edge of rage and grief that colors their every interaction. In the first season, Ryan has a brutal run-in with Tommy Lee Royce, his biological father, a sequence so tense that it’s barely watchable. As the second season starts, Cawood hasn’t recovered from any of this, especially not her conflict with the now imprisoned Royce. People who haven’t seen “Happy Valley” may have heard that it is a show with a “strong female character,” a woman who excels at her job, like the dogged, honorable Burr, on “The Night Manager.” But Catherine Cawood doesn’t have a trace of phony empowerment: although she’s not precisely an antihero, she is a “bloody mess,” as she might put it, as damaged by her past as she is fuelled by it. She’s not a fantasy of resilience but a portrait of how limited that notion is, when it comes to actual suffering.
A series of terrible crimes occurs under Cawood’s nose. Her colleague murders a woman with whom he’d been having an affair, and who had been blackmailing him. A serial killer preys on prostitutes. A prostitute is raped by a client. In addition, Cawood’s sweet sister, Clare (Siobhan Finneran), a recovering addict, gets involved with a man who has his own troubled history. Most unsettling of all, a mouselike young woman, Frances Drummond (all black spectacles and whispers, in a brilliant performance by Shirley Henderson), becomes a teacher at the local school so that she can build a relationship with Ryan. She intends to bring him closer to his father, whom she’s been visiting in prison.
Each of these plots could easily become a cartoon: the serial killer could reveal a set of stylish kinks; we could watch the rape occur in graphic detail; Drummond could go full “Hand That Rocks the Cradle.” None of that happens. Instead, “Happy Valley” miraculously manages to treat the ugliest behavior imaginable with humane insight, while never letting the perpetrators off the hook. It views crime as an act of weakness, not power. The most frightening sequence in the show involves a seemingly kind act, a surprise birthday gift of an elaborate child’s toy, which devolves into a scene of family rancor so distressing that I had to cover my eyes, as if it were a murder.
In “The Night Manager,” Roper steadily delivers monologues about evil. Only children see the world as rational or meaningful, he argues. “Becoming a man is realizing that it’s all rotten—and realizing how to celebrate that rottenness. That’s freedom.” Le Carré’s world offers us a fantasy of an iconic brand of authority: the cool intellect that allows a strong person to experience the ultimate pleasure, which is total control. Only the shrewdest, most virtuous man in the world can undermine the worst one.
“Happy Valley,” which is set in an unglamorous West Yorkshire pocked with drugs and unemployment, thinks locally, not globally. It regards total control as the childish illusion. For a long time, that teacher seems like a familiar trope. She’s certainly sinister, with her saccharine voice and the clinging way that she interacts with Royce during their visits. (“Happy Valley” is often at its best when dramatizing pathological uses of femininity.) When Cawood goes to see her, late at night, we assume she wants vengeance. In another show, we’d get a kickass showdown.
Instead, the two talk, in a layered, rivetingly performed debate, one inflected by Cawood’s anxiety that Ryan might carry his father’s criminal nature inside him. Drummond argues, feverishly, that evil isn’t inborn. She insists that Royce, however damaged he was by an “awful” childhood, can become “good and kind and gentle and thoughtful— thoughtful . That’s what I see when I listen to him, when I look into his eyes.” Softly but straightforwardly, Cawood shreds her delusions, which are the result not of too little empathy but of too much. She also points out the obvious: if Royce weren’t a muscular, tattooed man with the face of an angel, no woman would defend him. “You’re jealous,” Drummond says, her face lit by what she believes must be true. Cawood smiles, her face hard and full of pity.
It’s a sequence that is world-weary in all senses—wise, complex, intractably sad—a debate about justice that can’t be resolved. But it has real sophistication, the kind that lingers. ♦
By Anthony Lane
By Willing Davidson
By Richard Brody
Review: ‘The Night Manager’ Perfectly Tells a Classic — Or Is It Cliche? — Story
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Early in “The Night Manager,” Susanne Bier ‘s miniseries adapted from John le Carre ‘s 1993 novel of the same name, the titular night manager at a lavish Egyptian hotel is asked how he came to the role (by, of course, a mysterious woman with a seductive foreign accent).
Sophie (Aure Atika): “Have you always been the night manager?” Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston): “It’s my profession, yes.” “You chose it?” “I think it chose me.” “It’s a shame. You look fine by daylight.”
And indeed, he does, as does the rest of this fine ensemble cast all operating in top form. It’s in getting under their skin and grasping their motivations where the otherwise flawless drama hits a minor snag. In descending order of dimensionality, Hugh Laurie plays the mouse to Hiddleston’s cat, portraying the wealthy humanitarian/global arms dealer Richard Roper with a diabolically restrained bit of smarm. Olivia Colman , a splendid British actress best known for “Broadchurch,” shines intensely as MI6 intelligence officer Angela Burr, who will let nothing — not even her own pregnancy — stop her from capturing Roper. Elizabeth Debicki is the target’s girlfriend, Jed Marshall, a woman with a few secrets up her sleeve that may or may not be part of her own plan for the corrupt philanthropist. Finally, there’s Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine, an ex-army man who rightfully gets top billing in the show, yet is still inexplicably kept at arm’s length.
The story, told in an effectively linear fashion yet itching for more of the few time jumps utilized in the first two episodes, gives Pine plenty of opportunities for development. We see his main motivation unfold within the first 15 minutes, but he’s hardly a man who makes the decisions he does because of a single reason. Lines are dropped about his deceased father, how his time in the service didn’t meet his expectations and why he remains loyal to his home country of Britain. But rarely does the script from David Farr dig past those teasing glimpses of a backstory. Instead, Bier relies on Hiddleston to carry Pine from start to finish, which he does with an admirable determination and aptly unbreakable constitution.
We’ve seen spy shows and movies call on their agents to act like actors, altering mind and body to fool a target into believing they’re someone else, and “The Night Manager” asks something similar of Pine. Perhaps Hiddleston’s highest marks — and he deserves many — should be given for this transition, as he manages to show us exactly what his character is called upon to do without making it such a perfect transformation that the audience is left thinking, “Well, of course he could do that. He’s Tom Hiddleston!” There is such an incredible amount of nuance to Hiddleston’s role that it speaks to how little we really know about Pine — the triumph of an actor going above and beyond what’s found in the script.
READ MORE: Exclusive First Look: AMC’s ‘The Night Manager’ Poster Reveals That Nothing Is Random
Yet somehow it’s Colman who really walks away with “The Night Manager.” It could be that her three big scenes — all of which involve hefty monologues delivered in various, volatile emotional states — are juicier than any given to the male leads. It could be that Colman’s is a face relatively unknown to American audiences who haven’t scoured the BBC (or Internet) for “Broadchurch” or “Peep Show” (among others), and thus is more of a surprise than her U.S.-established co-stars. Or it could just be that “The Lobster” hasn’t come out yet . No matter the reason, there’s no denying her immense talent; talent which should be rewarded come this year’s Emmys .
The production and performances really do deserve such adulation, but the miniseries itself feels like a rather by-the-book spy story — which, notably, it is ; an acknowledgment that means even more when you consider the author of said book is John le Carre. In just over a decade, we’ve seen three impeccable adaptations of the top-notch novelist’s work: “The Constant Gardener,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “A Most Wanted Man.” “The Night Manager” would rank last on a list that, admittedly, just about any fan of the genre would happily marathon. There’s no denying that Le Carre set the mold for spy stories, but now that mold needs to be broken, rather than recast with the finest materials.
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BOOK VERSUS FILM: John Le Carre’s The Night Manager
The Night Manager is John Le Carre’s 14 th book, published in 1993. The story of ex-soldier-turned-hotelier-turned-spy Jonathan Pine was turned into a massively successful and lavish TV series in 2016, starring a veritable embarrassment of acting riches and exotic locations. But which did it better – the book or the show?
Jonathan Pine is a haunted man. Haunted by the memories of his time as a soldier involved in covert operations in Northern Ireland, and by a failed marriage, he’s distanced himself from his past by becoming the night manager in a string of high-class hotels.
During his time at one such hotel in Egypt he meets and falls in love with Sophie, the mistress of a local playboy who is involved in a deal with one Richard Onslow Roper. Roper is massively rich, surrounded by aristocratic cronies, and untouchable. He’s also completely untroubled by morals and happy to sell arms – under the guise of agricultural equipment – to the highest bidder. Sophie entrusts Jonathan with a list of what’s on the table – guns, tanks, missiles and chemical weapons – only to be used in the case of her meeting with ‘an accident’; but Jonathan, as an ex-soldier, can’t help but act on the information. He passes it on to a friend at the British Embassy. The deal folds. But Sophie ends up dead. Jonathan, with even more guilt on his hands, leaves Egypt.
He starts work at an exclusive hotel in Switzerland, where he meets ‘Dicky’ Roper in the flesh. In an attempt to avenge Sophie’s death, he passes information on Roper and his group onto British Intelligence, where it lands on the desk of Leonard Burr, head of a small MI5 task force. Burr, who’s been trying to stop Roper’s arms deals for some time, offers Jonathan the chance to bring him down by going undercover and infiltrating his circle of friends.
Driven by the desire for revenge, Jonathan becomes part of Roper’s inner circle, replacing his right hand man Corky and trying (and failing) to avoid falling for his partner Jed. Soon Jonathan, under a different identity, is living in Roper’s luxury compound in Nassau, flying in his private jet and signing the paperwork on arms deals worth millions of pounds. But will he get his man?
The TV Show
The action’s moved to more recent times – Jonathan’s now in Egypt during the Arab Spring uprising, and saw service in the Iraq, rather than Ireland – but we’re back in the same hotel.
We don’t learn quite so much about Jonathan, played by Tom Hiddleston in what’s basically a six hour James Bond audition; he can still charm the hotel guests, the ladies and more or less everyone around him without giving away much of himself, but we don’t really get the impression that he’s particularly haunted. Just a bit of a loner. But hey, he’s got a nice smile.
The GENIUS move of the TV show, though, is in casting Olivia Colman as Agent Burr (now Angela – she really doesn’t look like a Leonard, especially as she’s heavily pregnant). In the book Burr is a typical Le Carre spy; passionate in his own way, but otherwise a slightly faceless man in grey. Here, Burr is warm and stroppy and takes no shit from anybody whilst being driven by compassion for the victims of Roper and the buyers of his ‘agricultural equipment’.
Actually, the entire cast is a genius move. Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of Dicky Roper is by turns convincingly evil and absolutely charming; in the opening scenes of Episode 2 – a family party at an island restaurant – he holds court affectionately over his friends and is genuinely warm and loving towards his son; who wouldn’t want a seat at that table? Tom Hollander as the loyal and increasingly bitter Corky is a show stealer – his meltdown at a later restaurant scene, aware that he’s been replaced by Jonathan, the ‘human hand grenade’ who’ll blow up in Roper’s face, is fascinatingly uncomfortable to watch.
So Which Format Does It Better?
There are several points in which the book and TV show differ, which I’m going to avoid so as not to give away too many spoilers (because if you haven’t watched it or read it, you should), but here’s a few which I think are fairly safe to divulge.
In the book, Jonathan’s cover – his metamorphosis from a charming hotelier into a desperate man on the run – is convincing, although possibly much too long. He doesn’t suddenly change character and turn into a thug; he relies on that charm as usual, mixing with his new West Country neighbours under the name Jack Linden, a few hints that his business isn’t completely legitimate, but he’s a nice fella, talks to the locals, sits in the pub with them.
And then BOOM! Jack Linden leaves town, with a suspicious deep cut on his hand, his business partner’s missing, and the boat he’d just sailed into Falmouth is full of drugs. Jonathan, under a false passport, ends up in Canada, where he works as a hotel chef until he gets ANOTHER false passport after an affair with a local woman – someone else he now feels guilty about – then gets a string of jobs on luxury yachts until he works his way to the island restaurant where he meets up with Roper again. PHEW.
It goes on and on – but it works. In the TV show he just turns up in the West Country, becomes an outlandish thug and then somehow ends up on the Mallorcan island where that family meal takes place. This might’ve worked (possibly) with another actor, but not with Tom Hiddleston, who’s just far too NICE for it to be convincing. But it does mean we get a brief shot of him showering naked under a waterfall, so it’s not all bad. BOOK 1 – TV 0
The book spends a lot more time focusing on the politics and powerplay between the different intelligence agencies, and after a while I just kind of lost the plot; there are so many different characters involved, none of them saying what they mean (they’re spies and civil servants for god’s sake!). The TV show kept this struggle between the agencies, but made it far less complicated with fewer players and succeeded where the book didn’t – it kept my interest. But having said that, if you’re a Le Carre fan, that’s what his books are all about. So I think BOOK 1 – TV 1 , but committed spy novel readers might disagree.
Where I think the TV show absolutely beats the book hands down is in it’s portrayal of Roper, Corky et al. Bad guys are nearly always more interesting than good ones, and this lot are no exception. In the book, apart from a brief meeting with Roper at the Swiss hotel in the beginning, we don’t see him again until well over 200 pages in. In the TV show, episode 2 starts at his luxurious (and fecking massive) villa in Mallorca and we pretty much stick with him, bar the odd outing back to MI5/6 in London, until the end. And that’s much more exciting to watch (the other thing I’m glad the TV show did was move Roper from Nassau to Mallorca, because Le Carre’s attempts at the local accent in the book were excruciating). BOOK 1 – TV 2
The ending of the book also differs from the TV show – I’m not going into details how! – and while I found the TV ending much more satisfying, the book is possibly more realistic. So that’s a draw. BOOK 2 – TV 3
Whenever you compare a movie or TV show with the source it’s bound to be difficult – it’s like comparing apples to oranges – so in the end it’s about personal taste. If you want a gritty, twisty spy thriller, read the book. But if like me you want a marvellous confection of glamorous locations, the odd bit of sexiness and some amazing performances, the TV show is hard to beat.
BIO : Fiona Leitch is a screenwriter based on the sunny South Coast of the UK. She specialises in thriller and comedy screenplays with feisty, funny, female protagonists, and is a sucker for a happy ending. Recent work includes spy/crime thriller ‘Lost in Berlin’, which was a finalist in New York’s Athena Film Festival/IRIS Screenwriting Lab 2017; sci fi drama ‘Paradise’ and black comedy/drama ‘Dead in Venice’, both of which reached the final rounds of BBC Writersroom initiatives. Visit her website, HERE .
3 thoughts on “BOOK VERSUS FILM: John Le Carre’s The Night Manager”
Well done analysis! I have nothing more to add but felt sad that there were no previous comments. Cheer!
that was supposed to be “Cheers!”
Is a woman like Jed in the book? She seems out of place and unnecessary and annoying
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Tv/streaming, collections, great movies, chaz's journal, contributors, tom hiddleston and hugh laurie shine in amc's brilliant "the night manager".
Film and television have led us to believe that most espionage takes place in darkness. Men meet in dark alleys, secluded nightspots or private locations. One thing that the great Susanne Bier gets about modern espionage is that it often comes accompanied by opulence. Much of her brilliant adaptation of “The Night Manager,” starting tonight at 10/9c on AMC and running for the next five weeks, takes place in the blinding sun. Rich men sit on verandas, making deals that cause death around the world. It is only one aspect of Bier’s adaptation of John le Carré’s 1993 novel that feels fresh and engaging. Nearly everything about “The Night Manager” works, from the high-powered cast to the gorgeous locales. And it’s thematically dense as well, as le Carré and Bier examine the games people play with each other to get what they need, and how far we’re willing to go to deceive for the greater good.
Jonathan Pine (the incredible Tom Hiddleston ) is the man who gets the wealthy what they need. He is the night manager of a very wealthy hotel in Cairo, the guy who can literally acquire anything for his clientele. When one of his guests basically reaches out to him for protection, he nervously acquiesces, taking a document from her, regarding an arms deal about to go down, to make a copy for her. The peek into the world of high-powered weapons trading teaches him of the existence of one of its power players, Richard Roper ( Hugh Laurie ). After things in Cairo go sideways during the Arab Spring, Pine finds himself in a unique position, enlisted by Angela Burr ( Olivia Colman ) to go undercover in Roper’s inner circle, where he meets Roper’s girlfriend Jed ( Elizabeth Debicki ) and his right-hand man Corkoran ( Tom Hollander ). Pine gets a whole new identity, losing himself in Roper’s world of glamour, but never forgetting the human cost of what this all means. He draws closer to Jed and raises the suspicions of Corkoran. It’s all wonderfully le Carré.
Le Carré and the mini-series format are ideal companions in that his narratives often demand more than the feature film running time allows (this was nearly adapted several times in the 20 years since its publication but no screenwriter could compress it to a movie length). It’s not just because of the density of the plot either, but more for the tone that the length of “The Night Manager” allows. We don’t even really see Roper for most of the first episode, turning him into a Jaws-esque legend before Laurie even has the chance to inject this performance with the perfect balance of wit and pure evil. He’s fantastic. We get notable character development for roles like Corkoran and Jed, who would have been mere plot devices if the narrative had to be compressed. Debicki and Hollander are both excellent.
Having said all of that, “The Night Manager” belongs to Hiddleston, someone who is equally convincing as the face of a glamorous lifestyle in Cairo and a veteran soldier hell-bent on vengeance. In fact, the pulse of “The Night Manager” comes from that transition, as we watch a man who has put his dark past behind him slowly bring it back to meet his present day needs. Hiddleston is so convincing that one could easily see him playing 007 next, although I’ve long been convinced that he can do just about anything he sets his mind to. He’s that good.
There’s also something to be said for a project like “The Night Manager” being directed by one filmmaker for every episode, the talented woman behind “Brothers” and the Golden Globe-winning “ In a Better World .” Bier brings a cinematic language to “The Night Manager,” and a deeper understanding of character than we often get in projects that hinge on espionage. She understands that it’s not about the twists and turns of the spy game but the impact it has on those who are playing it.
Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.
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