(Dir. Susanne Bier) (2016)
Once upon a time, John le Carré wrote an excellent book that was made into an excellent film, The Spy Who came in from the Cold. Alas for John, the Cold War ended. Since then, he’s been grumpily looking for an appropriate villain, and railed interminably in vapid fashion against untrammeled capitalism, a crusade revealed in a series of highly lucrative books, films and TV series.
In The Night Manager, a 6-part serial adapted from the Carré novel by David Farr, a hotel desk-jockey, Jonathan Pine (the fervently wholesome Tom Hiddleston) decides to take on international armaments dealer Richard Roper (a sinuous and daunting Hugh Laurie). Roper poses as a benevolent, philanthropic capitalist (don’t they all?) but actually he is fixing to sell a bunch of proscribed weaponry (e.g., Sarin gas, Kalashnikov rifles, rocket launchers, napalm) to help the Arab Spring and other adventures along. (He is called “the worst man in the world” – Carré needs to get out more.)
Dedicated spy-master Angela Burr (Olivia Colman playing a cross between Connie Sachs and Judy Dench as ‘M’) is thrilled when the night manager sends over a purchase order for mass destruction linked to Roper, which he obtains and copies in his office at the “Nefertiti Hotel” (one would think Roper would run his shop a little tighter). She decides to recruit this concerned citizen and turn him into Super-Mole (Ray Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel he ain’t) so he can nail Roper and bring him down. After all, we can’t have a nasty chancer dealing on the arms market, can we? That franchise is limited to our democratically elected and un-elected governments.
Bier is vaunted as an actors’ director. Certainly we get many close-ups of Pine’s green, staring eyes, widened impressively when he is emoting. There is a lot of heavy exposition in pretty surroundings (the scenes in Cairo aka Morocco, Zermatt, and Mallorca aka Majorca are superb, although Bier must get over her obsession with the Matterhorn – we saw 19 different views of it in the first episode). Handsome people consciously coupling, international locations, swanky hotels, extreme violence, virtue-signalling – really, this series is the Higher Trash – staged, fake and meaningless. But a diversion every week for 90 minutes or so, plus commercials. Unlike our very brief fling with Newton’s Law, we may stick with this one for a few more episodes, just to see if L’s predictions of the story’s outcome prove true. (That’s the problem with people like us. We know all the plots.)