I’m a big fan of John le Carré’s novels. I like his style. His grammar is impeccable. His plots are an amazing sequence of seemingly unrelated threads that, eventually, become woven into an intricate and wholly plausible fabric of fact and fiction with no loose ends. I became hooked in 1963, or shortly thereafter, when The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was published and I subsequently hung on every word of his 1970’s Smiley trilogy, the first of which, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), was the first book I read where I had to make notes as I read the story — who was who, who did he or she work for, what was the interplay between the characters, and so on. From this point on I’ve read all subsequent John le Carré novels, or so I thought until I realised that the recent BBC television mini-series, The Night Manager broadcast in February 2016, was based on one of his books that somehow had escaped me. Sandwiched between The Secret Pilgrim (1990) and Our Game (1995), The Night Manager (1993) is another tale of intrigue and secret deals between the world’s good guys and bad guys: in this case, between various UK and American government intelligence agencies and illegal arms dealers.
With this as background, I decided to watch the television series in catch-up mode. Now, I realise that a television mini-series, or a movie, based on a novel is usually stripped of all but the bare essentials of the original plot and given that I still have not read the book I can only judge the adaptation on what I viewed. Certainly, the story had the authentic ring of a John le Carré plotline with plenty of dealing and double-dealing between the goodies and the baddies and it fairly zipped along over the six 50-minute episodes with multiple location switches — London, Cairo, Zermatt, Madrid, Majorca, and Kasimli (in southern Turkey) — and two seductive females a la Bond style. (I’ll say more about these ladies in a minute.)
L to R: Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), Jed Marshall (Elizabeth Debicki), Angela Burr (Olivia Colman), Lance Corkoran (Tom Hollander)
So far, so good. The story held my attention; the villains were truly villainous; and the good guys, and gals, were all excellent except one — the hero Jonathan Pine played by Tom Hiddleston. Now, don’t get me wrong. Hiddleston is a good-looking guy, nicely groomed and structured, a welcoming voice, and with a fantastic smile but that’s all he is. James Bond he is not. His two fight scenes were awful (it’s clear he is no pugilist) and his transition from a mildly servile night manager of an up-market hotel in Cairo to a snarling unemotional cold-blooded killer who, with a cool nerve and at great risk, has infiltrated the illegal arms dealer’s organisation just didn’t happen. He remained unaggressive and reminded me very much of Keanu Reeves and Ryan Gosling, neither of whom can display emotion. This was a pity because the other key players were all tremendous in their roles: Hugh Laurie as the menacing arms dealer Richard Roper; Olivia Colman as the heavily-pregnant pragmatic I-don’t-give-a-shit Angela Burr, boss of an off-the-radar International Enforcement Agency in London (a tour de force performance by Colman); Tom Hollander as Lance Corkoran, a slithery sinister not-to-be-trusted sidekick of Richard Roper especially when he drops his voice almost to a whisper (also an excellent performance by Hollander); and all the supporting cast players. But I’m sorry. Hiddleston just didn’t cut it for me. He was competent in his role but lacked the acting skills of, say, Daniel Craig (James Bond) or, dare I say it, Tom Cruise (Mission Impossible’s Ethan Hunt).
And what of the ladies? There were two femme fatales in the series: an Egyptian courtesan named Sophie Alekan, played by the Portuguese actress Aure Atikan, who unfortunately meets her demise in the first episode, and Richard Roper’s love interest, Jed Marshall, played by the Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki — tall, beautiful in a gamine sort of way, given to wearing flowing clingy revealing dresses, and who had the best line in the whole series. In one scene, our hero, Jonathan Pine, bursts into her bedroom (as you do) and discovers her sitting post-shower on the bed, still naked and crying over a personal issue. He duly apologises for the intrusion to which she replies: “I don’t mind who sees me naked but I do mind who sees me crying.” Now, that’s my gal! John le Carré is not given to strong seductive beautiful women in his novels (unlike Ian Fleming) but Elizabeth Debicki would make a perfect Bond Girl.
There you have it. I enjoyed the mini-series and recommend it to you if you’ve not yet watched it. My only criticism was Hiddleston’s anodyne performance. Earlier this year, he was being touted as a contender for Daniel Craig’s crown if he retires from his current Bond role but I understand this opportunity is now off the table. In a way, that’s a pity. If Hiddleston could extend his emotions beyond his charming smile and cultivate his athletic and combative skills, he probably would make a good, even memorable, James Bond. But it’s not to be, I guess.
Finally, if you do watch the mini-series, look out for John le Carré in a cameo role in episode 4. In a restaurant scene at a table lorded over by Roper, the sidekick Corky (Lance Corkoran) creates an ugly incident concerning the lack of a lobster salad and attempts to steal one destined for the adjacent table at which John le Carré (credited as David Cornwall, his real name) is seated. Jonathan Pine (Hiddleston) smooths the situation and John le Carré gracefully accepts the apology, which is probably just as well. You don’t want to make enemies in John le Carré’s world.