In the Rust we have been praise-worthy of seventies drama and critical of the contemporary especially by comparison to Nordic Noir. However I can only laud BBC’s latest effort for Sunday The Night Manager as an espionage thriller. It is based on a John Le Carre novel but adapted to the present day and quite a long way removed from the opaque grimy world of the Circus. It has a touch of James Bond with glamorous, sexy women and high class hotel locations and the hero is more Richard Hannay than George Smiley with a clear moral compass.
The night manager is Jonathan Pyne (Tim Hiddleston) who is first seen making his intrepid way to work through the bullets of the Arab Spring in Cairo to his 5 star hotel where he works on night duty. A sensuous sultry Arab woman Sophie ( Aure Atika) , the mistress of a wealtty and influential Egyptian businessman installed by him in the best suite , asks him to copy and retain the purchase list of an arms order which he passes to a MI6 friend. The villain is Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) the arms dealer. The mistress comes to an unfortunate end and Pyne is recruited to MI6 by his handler Burr, played by Amanda Colman. Amanda Colman is in everything these days as she is an immensely capable actress. The action moves 4 years forward to Zermatt where Pyne on night duty at another 5 star hotel where Roper turns up again with a bevy of loose women.
The series cost £20m. There is a throw back to Smiley’s People and Tinker Tailor with high production values, outdoor locations and excellent acting. Tim Hiddleston is especially effective as the politely unctuous duty manager who can barely disguise his inner disgust for the arms dealers. Amanda Colman playing the MI6 handler as a brassily tough northerner is also memorable. Le Carre has been criticised for imprecise female roles. The producer has changed some of the male roles in the book into women’s and this does not seem to affect anything.
You never know how a series will develop but the signs are after the first episode that the BBC have a winner here on the drama battleground of Sunday night.