Whether Tom Hiddleston is a James Bond is another matter, but he is certainly putting in a good audition for the part, and is likely to get more so as the action hots up.
The six-part series is based on Le Carré’s 1993 post-Cold War novel, but has been updated while keeping the heart of the story the same. It begins in Cairo during the Arab Spring uprising of 2011 with Jonathan Pine (Hiddleston) making his way through the protesting crowds in a city teetering on the edge of violence.
He is making his way to the Hotel Nefertiti where he works as the night manager of the title. There he is approached by the beautiful Sophie Aleka, mistress of some well-connected Egyptian playboy, and she hands Pine a sheaf of confidential papers to copy and hand to his chum at the British embassy ‘in case anything should happen to me’. Why she does this isn’t clear. Perhaps he motives are pure, or more likely because she facies the pants of him.
The papers are a shopping list of terror, an arsenal of conventional and chemical weapons that might be used to crush the popular uprising and being the honest, upright Brit that he is, Pine passes on the copies straight away. In turn they make their way to a mysterious intelligence agency in London run by the feisty and very northern Angela Burr (Olivia Colman). For her, it is an opportunity to finally pin something on the unscrupulous arms dealer, Richard Roper.
But someone in the corridors of power does not want the deal stopped or see the rise of yet another fundamentalist state in the Middle East. Not only is Burr prevented from taking action, but Roper and his Egyptian contacts are tipped off about the leaked documents.
Unsurprisingly, Sophie finds herself being murdered in her hotel room, despite Pine’s best efforts to keep her safe.
Fast forward to 2016 and Pine is now the night manager at a hotel in Zermatt, Switzerland, and who should arrive one night but the odious Richard Roper (the worst man in the world according to Sophie) plus his entourage, there to conclude yet another of his immoral arms deals.
Pine decides to act and taking a book from the shelf in his room for Burr’s phone number that he stashed significantly within the page of The Letters of T E Lawrence at part four – The Years of Hide and Seek. He meets Burr who asks him how far he is prepared to go to bring down Roper, and thus ends episode one.
Hugh Lawrie is excellent as ever as Richard Roper. I found myself thinking of Nigel Farage in his performance, someone I quite like as a character, if not for his politics. Lawrie’s Roper has that same combination of hail-fellow-well-met with an underlying sense of malice and menace that is nothing short of disturbing.
The story has been adapted by David Farr who also wrote for the excellent Spooks and he has done an equally good job here of updating the characters (Angela Burr is called Leonard in the book) while maintaining the essence of the plot.
The Night Manager is BBC drama at it very best for me and I recommend you watch it while it is still available on iPlayer if only for the brilliant opening title graphics.