Inevitably sleek and sophisticated, The Night Manager marks the unavoidable adaptation of John le Carré’s novel of the same name. Stretched across six episodes clocking in at near enough an hour each, there is no better way to tell this story of secret agents, government conspiracies and arms dealers than through the host that is Tom Hiddleston. He and fellow executive producer Hugh Laurie do much of the heavy lifting throughout an adaptation that starts off with a relatively placid approach and continues such a perspective the whole way through. What could have been an entertaining thriller that weaves arcs and angles together is instead a rather expected, underwhelming affair with criminals and convicts.
It should be made clear that The Night Manager does not do anything wrong. But it does not do anything right either. A series stuck in the middle of the road, and with no sign that it’ll shift into either lane, it makes for a watchable piece. Not a convincing one, but certainly entertaining enough to continue engaging with from time to time. Never pushing the envelope or revelling in what it could have turned into, The Night Manager shies away from the character studies and relationships to wholly fixate on its arms operation and its framing of several individuals who feel they are key players, but in actuality are nothing more than fronts and fixtures for the real powerhouse of the operation.
Struggling to balance its political thriller elements with its undercover espionage, much is lost to the unpreventable victory of our protagonist. How we get there is the crucial piece of interest, but that is shown with the expected twists and turns. Thankfully able to keep away from the James Bond and Jason Bourne comparisons for most of its running time, there are definite wobbles. Whether this is a problem for le Carré or the treatment of these scripts is entirely unknowable to those who have not read the book. Hiddleston is a strong leading man, but it is Laurie who shines well, turning in a performance so far away from his early days as the typecast comic. It is refreshing to see him in such a role, and alongside Elizabeth Debicki and Tom Hollander, he does well to come out as leader of the pack.
The Night Manager is a sophisticated, sleek series that knows where it wishes to go, forgets about all its excess baggage, and never quite manages to regain its lost ground. Darting off to different locations, director Susanne Bier never manages to slow the pacing down, never diving in deep and examining the rich wordplay and flutters of foreshadowing. Starting off strong and diluting itself the more it throws itself toward the espionage arms deals, the real strengths are found in the early moments, where the trust between Pine (Hiddleston) and Roper (Laurie) are at their weakest. The stronger their relationship, the weaker the piece.