Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Ksl.communications

The Night Manager: A Refreshing Update of the Spy Drama

The final episode of The Night Manager is soon to air on BBC1 and I feel it is my duty to urge each and every one of you to take your virtual selves to iPlayer, binge-watch the first five episodes and join me, this Sunday, on the edge of my seat as the agony and the excitement of the last month reaches its explosive climax.

It has everything you need to produce a quality BBC spy drama: two national treasures engaging in an age-old battle between good and evil, buttressed by the slick co-operation of two hot new talents. And to top it all off, it has been adapted from a John le Carré novel.

I rarely ever use the word ‘cool’ un-ironically; it’s now so broad a term that it’s lost all specificity and has really become quite pedestrian. But there’s just something so bleeding cool about The Night Manager and I can’t find any other way of saying it! I don’t know what it is.

Tom Hiddleston stars in the drama. Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Olivier06400

Maybe it’s the sight of Tom Hiddleston poolside, maybe it’s the way Olivia Colman manages to boss every exchange in spite of her pregnancy-induced waddle and Yorkshire accent, maybe it’s the way Elizabeth Debicki seems to glide through each scene as if she’s on ice, or maybe it’s the quiet but palpable fear that Hugh Laurie is able to so effortlessly engender.

Without giving too much away, here’s what’s going on. Wandering hotel night manager Jonathan Pine (Hiddleston) is recruited by investigative operative Angela Burr (Colman) to infiltrate the inner circle of arms dealer and ‘worst man in the world’, Richard Onslow Roper (Laurie).

We watch Pine play his part in an illegal arms deal whilst feeding information back to London and navigating the suspicions of his new colleagues, as well as his inevitable attraction to Roper’s younger mistress, Jed (Debicki).

On the surface, this appears to be a mere variation on every other spy action-thriller out there. So what makes this one so appealing and so different?

What I find so refreshing about this drama is its subtle revision of the popular stereotypes that have come to characterise its genre.

It’s erotic, but neither gratuitous nor voyeuristic; it’s violent, but sparingly so. The quiet moments of tension and suspicious glances are the most dramatic and intriguing.

The men in The Night Manager are not what you’d initially expect; they are not mountainous alpha-males who get what they what by throwing their weight around. Of course, Hiddleston commands the screen as a physical specimen, but he is hardly Daniel Craig. Instead, it’s a winning smile, a nervous charm and a measured efficiency that makes his Pine so appealing.

Similarly, Laurie’s Roper is not a gun-wielding, irrational maniac. He is a middle-aged man with a faux-aristocratic accent and a deadly stare. And his suspicious pit bull of a right-hand man, Lance Corkoran (played by the scene-stealing Tom Hollander), is a 5 foot 4 gay man who seamlessly blurs the lines between homicidal and carnal desire.

Equally, the women are not sexual conquests who emerge from the waves in white bikinis.

We are treated to a refreshing variety of characters whose portrayals combine to combat the one-dimensional depictions that have preceded them. We are presented with a statuesque beauty with a soft voice and a hidden past, an embittered and disillusioned aristocrat with an adulterous husband, a calculating, pant suit-wearing Permanent Secretary and Colman’s Angela Burr, who serves a notably feminist purpose.

The BBC’s casting of a heavily pregnant woman as a character (initially written as a man) who holds a high-ranking position and leads a team with unequalled passion and efficiency, is making a very valuable and important statement during an era where feminism, as well as wage and employment equality are hot topics.

In a world full of unending soaps and predictable cop dramas, the BBC has managed to produce a stylish and absorbing mini-series, the high standard of which has been assured by an innovative approach to an otherwise conventional formula.


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