TV Review: The Night Manager
It's uncanny how TV storyliners can substitute the Arab Spring for the Cold War, but Sunday's superb updating of John Le Carre's The Night Manager (8.30pm, TV3) remains flawlessly plausible despite the liberty.
The headline news about this series is that Hugh Laurie plays the urbanely corrupt industrialist villain, Dickie Roper. But he's only one of its many pleasures.
Those still mooning after SoHo's The Honorable Woman have much more to chew on here, as Roper is covertly supplying hideous weaponry to extremist genocidalists, while pretending to be a public darling philanthropist back in England.
Into his orbit comes Jonathan Pine (Tim Hiddleston), a war-weary former soldier who has immersed himself in the escapist servitude of a fabulous Cairo hotel. We quickly learn that Pine can handle himself and there's more to him than meets the eye behind the "Certainly, Madame!" exterior. It's the fall of Mubarak and rampaging crowds are terrorising his wealthy guests, yet he never once loses his composure. All the same, it comes as a surprise to realise that Pine is no spy. He really is only the hotel night manager, a pourer rather than consumer of Bondish martinis.
But into his lap falls a shocking piece of information. The mistress of the hotel's wealthy, brutal and politically conniving owner has discovered her beau is doing this arms deal with Roper. She settles on Pine as confidant and conduit before, inevitably, being brutally murdered.
He reluctantly, but rather heroically under the circumstances becomes the accidental spy, conveying the shocking intelligence. Back in London, the professional spies are impressed – as much with his patriotic actions as with his personal revulsion of Roper. What else would he not do to bring the man to justice? We're about to find out – not just what MI5 and Pine can cook up to bring Roper in for his crimes this time, but how impossibly likeable the damned villain is.
It's the ever-reliable Le Carre panoply of honour, privilege, trauma and human failings, with a top-shelf cast and travel brochure settings. This performance should make Hiddleston a big star. He's not so good-looking as to be Bond, but his Everyman quality has a silky, polished patina.
As Angela, his crabby, shabby MI5 operative in London, Olivia Colman is terrific, carping about resources and comprehensively trashing our TV notions of the elegance and glamour of top spooks.
And look out for Tom Hollander (Rev) as Roper's offsider.