Glossy and engaging, The Night Manager is a spy romance featuring Tom Hiddleston (Loki in Thor) and Hugh Laurie (House in House) trying to out-do each other in projecting silky menace. The six-part miniseries, premiering on AMC Tuesday night, is based on the 1993 John le Carré novel of the same name, updated that so we viewers don’t have to strain our pretty little heads with annoying stuff like, you know, history.
Hiddleston plays Jonathan Pine, Iraq war veteran turned night manager of a Cairo hotel when he’s enlisted in the British spy game by Angela Burr (Broadchurch’s Olivia Colman). He’s tasked with insinuating himself with Laurie’s Richard Roper, an industrialist/philanthropist/evil arms dealer. Pine also insinuates himself with Pine’s girlfriend, Jed (Elizabeth Debicki), the sort of woman who likes to leave the bathroom door open when taking a bubble-bath to give the hotel staff a thrill.
Yes, our man Pine is a crackerjack insinuator, and very quickly, he’s hired by Roper, fitted for a couple of tailored suits, and picking up the fine points of carrying two flutes of champagne one-handed. (It’s always nice to have one hand free to punch anyone bothering his new boss or to cup whatever body-part Jed is offering him.) As readers of le Carré know, there will be double- and triple-crosses, as Pine funnels intel to British and American agents about Roper’s amoral business dealings with enemies of both states. Inevitably, there arise suspicions that our hero may be playing both sides.
In all this Hiddleston is suave and convincing no matter who he’s cozying up to. (With a few more pounds and some intensive ab work, you could imagine him being a worthy James Bond.) Colman, who was pregnant at the time of filming, uses her baby bump (or baby small-mountain, to be more accurate) to enhance her performance as the spy who does all the exhausting hard work — her Angela is far more of a typical le Carré spy, more of a George Smiley, than anyone else onscreen here. As for Laurie: American TV watchers know him primarily from House, of course, and, among the Anglophiles, for his terrific low-comedy performances in shows such as Blackadder and A Bit of Fry & Laurie. Here, he’s one stroked-purring-cat away from a Bond villain, and villainy suits Laurie well. He’s got the low, rumbling voice for it, and when he squints, it conveys evil intent rather the need for a fresh pair of contacts. He delivers some of the script’s more downer lines (“Becoming a man is realizing it’s all rotten”; “Anyone can betray anyone”) with redeeming gusto.
While The Night Manager can’t touch the two Alec Guinness-starring le Carré adaptations, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979) and Smiley’s People (1982) — Manager as directed by Susanne Bier is both artful and eager to boost the glamour quotient wherever possible; it’s very entertaining. Any show that refers to the bad guy as “the worst man in the world” may not be terribly subtle, but the brisk pacing and Hiddleston’s regular displays of sly spy trickery and vigorous punches to the soft guts of decadent baddies will really get a viewer’s pulse quickening.
The Night Manager airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. on AMC.