BBC’s espionage drama The Night Manager is a very attractive magnet of a TV show that pulls me in and keeps me in its gravitational field long enough to finish all six one-hour episodes in two sittings. It helps that the man called the night manager is very charismatic and has eyes so mesmerizing, they make it hard for me to look away from the screen even for a picosecond.
The setting of The Night Manager: January, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. The event: Arab Spring.
Crowd fill the street, shouting, burning the Egyptian flag and waving hand-made banners with words condemning the president. A tall man in blue shirt and khaki pants calmly walks among them. Rapid gunfire precedes people screaming and running in all directions. The tall man continues to walk with even and unhurried strides. He shows his credentials to the soldier manning a checkpoint and enters Nefertiti Hotel, a luxurious abode where the rich, the powerful and the rotten rub elbows.
The tall man is Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston). Pine turns out to be the night manager at the hotel. But he is not a regular night manager. He was a soldier who did two tours in Iraq serving the British government. There, he saw crazy and horrible things that reduce the situation in Cairo a mere distraction from his duties at the hotel.
In the midst of chaos, Pine meets Sophie Alekan (Aure Atika), the mistress of Freddie Hamid (David Avery), an arms buyer who wants to crush the uprising in his city. Alekan shows Pine the laundry list of weapons of mass destruction and high-caliber arms that Hamid orders from the worst man in the world, arms dealer Richard Onslow Roper (Hugh Laurie). Although Pine does not meet Roper, the former holds a grudge on the latter. With the unfavorable outcome, Pine’s involvement with Alekan and Hamid’s affairs causes him to reassess his priorities. He escapes Egypt to forget that phase of his life.
Four years later, in the picturesque Alps, Pine resurfaces as the night manager of Meisters Hotel. Pine’s past catches up with him when Roper and his posse helicopter their way to Pine’s new territory. Pine meets Roper himself, and that meeting is the beginning of a very long con that is reminiscent of James Bond films, without the snazzy cars, gadget galore, non-English native speaking villains and overconfident and oversexed Bond. Yet The Night Manager is just as glamorous and breathtaking as the Agent 007 starrers, if not more so.
With some machinations, Pine finds himself as an esteemed albeit an untrustworthy guest in the Mallorca home of Roper (which is the best location of The Night Manager). Roper masquerades as businessman and humanitarian by day and unmasks his true self at night. That true self is a merciless and cold-hearted villain who profits millions of dollars from the misery of his victims.
As Pine spends more time in Spain, he finds out that the worst man in the world runs a tight ship with no paper trail that can be traced back to him. This is possible because of the cunning yet efficient schemers that surround him.
Roper’s tight-knit family of villains is led by Major Lance “Corky” Corkoran (Tom Hollander). Corkoran’s pint-sized stature belies the evil that lies within him. He is a trained killer who acts as Roper’s right-hand man. Among the secondary characters, he is the most intriguing. He is talkative, especially so when under the influence of alcohol. His lines are poetic, laden with double entendre and funny. He dishes out witty quips as quickly and as easily as he spots traitors or attractive gym bunnies.
Lord Alexander “Sandy” Langbourne (Alistair Petrie) is the most snob among Roper’s snooty men. He is Roper’s moneyman who thinks that it should take more than three generations of Eton before he considers someone to be on the map. Understandably, he is a man of many lusts; he likes venison on his plate and young women on his bed.
The only non-English on Roper’s retainer is lawyer Juan Apostol (Antonio de la Torre). His family life seems normal compared to Roper’s or Langbourne’s, but tragedy strikes at the birthday party of his daughter Elena. That changes Apostol and turns him into a more religious man.
The only rose among the thorns is Roper’s long-time girlfriend, the young and beautiful Jed Marshall (Elizabeth Debicki). Roper is loyal to Marshall but keeps her in the dark about his deadly shenanigans. She makes a grand introduction while she bathes in a free-standing tub, all luminous and frothy. Although it is easy to dismiss her as someone solely after Roper’s money, she comes across and is actually a good person who genuinely cares for Roper’s child Danny.
Hiddleston’s Pine as the night manager is a proper and decent gentleman who oozes with Englishness. He sheds his coat and tie for leather jacket and tight jeans in his transformation as Jack Linden the psychopath in Devon. Hiddleston beats the crap out of his enemies to give him the right to be called the second worst man in the world. He is deliciously credible. As he undergoes yet another name change, this time as Tom Quince the chef, he is a calculating man in a mission who wants everything to look realistic. His last alias is Andrew Birch, the suave TradePass executive who wears tailored suits like he is born in them. As Birch, he marries confidence and charisma in such a nice way that women everywhere would wish to marry him if he would have them. Birch walks with a gentle swagger that looks so sexy, and it goes perfectly well with his smoldering looks.
Laurie’s Roper is the perfect foil to Hiddleston’s many alter egos. Laurie exhibits Roper’s man-of-the-world traits with easy charm. He thinks that he is infallible and that laws do not apply to him, and he shows it in his laughter or wink. Laurie delivers Roper’s lines with panache. Even in his moments of vulnerability, Laurie is able to insult Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) and Pine.
The Night Manager’s finale, like its premier episode, does not disappoint. It has action, explosion, witty dialogues between Roper and Pine and Roper and Burr. It answers all questions and leaves no stone unturned. It is a fitting bookend to the series. It closes where Pine’s adventure starts, in Cairo, specifically in Nefertiti Hotel. With Pine still wearing a blue shirt, but now weight lifted off his shoulders.
The Night Manager does not have to beg the audience to watch it. The audience commit and make a decision to watch every second of it with much ardor. It has Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie. Those two are enough reasons to watch a 10-hour silent film. But The Night Manager is much more than its stars; it is the embodiment of heart-pumping action, charismatic characters and “believable” plot with no huge gaping holes. And, watching Loki walking the streets of Madrid and swimming in the shores of Mallorca is the highlight of my Spanish education.
For quotable quotes from The Night Manager, please read this.
Stray Observations (SPOILERS AHEAD):
- Richard Roper calls his bodyguards Frisky and Tabby. The names are heartwarming. Sometimes I forget that they are killing machines.
- Did Andrew Birch/Jonathan Pine wear dry-fit trousers when he killed Freddie Hamid? Birch/Pine drowned Hamid in a swimming pool with his suit on, but he arrived at Nefertiti Hotel as dry as the Sahara Desert.
- Richard Roper’s son, Danny is the cutest boy ever. More over, Bran Stark.
- How gorgeous is Roper’s house in Mallorca, Spain? Based on my research, it is called La Fortaleza. It is a 232-acre property that overlooks the Bay of Pollensa. It is dubbed as the most expensive property in Spain. It is most apt for a billionaire arm trafficker like Roper.