Television

BBC1’s The Night Manager verges on parody

Plus: why I will miss Channel 4’s Fresh Meat

27 February 2016

9:00 AM

27 February 2016

9:00 AM

The Night Manager (BBC1, Sunday) announced its intentions immediately, when the opening credits lovingly combined weapons and luxury items. ‘Blimey,’ we were clearly intended to think, ‘it’s a bit like James Bond.’ True, the main character works — at this stage, anyway — in the hotel trade rather than as a secret agent. Yet, when it comes to dress sense, being irresistible to the ladies and alternating between looking suave and enigmatically purposeful, Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) has little to learn from the great man himself.

Pine was first seen heading to work in 2011 through an uprising in Cairo where dozens of extras were demanding the overthrow of President Mubarak. But once he’d arrived at the lavish Nefertiti hotel, it wasn’t long before a female guest sashayed towards him and gave the words, ‘Make me a coffee would you, Mr Pine,’ an unusual degree of erotic charge.

In fact, though, there was more to Sophie Alekan than just a slightly hammy sexpot. As the mistress (naturally) of an Egyptian playboy millionaire, she had written evidence that an entrepreneur called Richard Roper — aka ‘the worst man in the world’ — was planning to sell her boyfriend’s family enough weapons to crush the uprising. Luckily, Pine had a friend at the British embassy and so got the evidence circulated to every intelligence organisation in London. But then, proving that The Night Manager is indeed based on a book by John le Carré, and not by Ian Fleming, Roper was tipped off about the leak by a high-ranking mole. As a result, the deal was off — and poor Sophie had flirted her last…

Meanwhile, another infallible sign of the programme’s le Carré origins is its obvious fury at the cynicism of realpolitik. Pine’s embassy friend, for example, explained that the British government couldn’t protect Sophie, because her boyfriend’s family had invested a billion dollars in the UK. Back in London, Angela Burr (Olivia Colman), head of the somewhat mysterious International Enforcement Agency, was rebuked by the Foreign Office for not realising that sometimes Britain’s interests are best served by letting bad guys sell weapons to each other.


And with that, we cut to four years later, with Pine working in a Swiss hotel that allowed the show’s sumptuous cinematography to treat itself to the Alps. The hotel was also posh enough to provide a quick alpine break for none other than Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie, so far sticking with quietly sinister rather than flat-out evil). Roper’s party of guests included his girlfriend Jed, whose flirtiness with Pine was, if anything, less subtle than Sophie’s — after stripping to her underwear in front of him, she then did that extending-her-leg-vertically-out-of-the-bath thing, with the door firmly open.

Even so, Pine had other things on his mind. Having made contact with Burr while in Cairo, he invited her to Switzerland and gave her the details of Roper’s party. And now, it seems, their alliance is about to deepen.

Through all of this, Sunday’s episode was as immaculately turned out as Pine himself, its tie-pin gleaming and its every hair in place. At times it perhaps felt rather self-consciously classy — but classy, nevertheless, it undoubtedly was. I do, however, have a couple of reservations.

The first is that The Night Manager is so respectful of its chosen genre as to occasionally verge on parody. (‘Are you like this with all your women?’ Sophie asked Pine at one point.) The other, more surprisingly — even heretically — is Olivia Colman, who doesn’t feel remotely like a top spy. Instead, she appears to have dropped in from another series entirely: the sort where a plucky, determinedly ordinary woman goes around being all sensible and down-to-earth in, say, a small factory in Manchester. Certainly, the least convincing line of the episode came when Burr heard a man’s name — and said that she knew him because ‘he was my leg man in Kiev’. Coming from Carrie in Homeland, this would have passed without much notice. Coming from Burr, it sounded almost delusional.

But before I go, a far smaller mention than it deserves for Fresh Meat (Monday, Channel 4), Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong’s comedy drama about a group of Manchester students, now back for its fourth and final series. Dennis Potter once said that you should regard your younger self with both tenderness and contempt, and this is a trick that Fresh Meat brilliantly pulls off with its own young characters, as, safe in the bosom of university, they try on various selves to see how well they fit. Like Bain and Armstrong’s Peep Show, it’s also packed with great jokes.

On Monday, with finals approaching, the students were increasingly mournful that their university days are coming to an end — and many Fresh Meat fans, I suspect, will be feeling the same.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
  • davidshort10

    Well pointed out. I quite liked the programme even though it is a bit silly until the ugly woman turned up. Suspension of belief is impossible. Someone like that would never have been appointed to such a position.

    • “Ugly woman”?

      Are you really that much of a misogynist? Or merely desirous of being seen to be “one of the lads”, with page 3 “birds” falling over themselves to devour your bits and pieces…

      • St Martyr

        Oh please! As if we women don’t make fun of men all the time on their looks!?? WTF is this? What if it was Johnny Vegas-do you think he wouldn’t say anything?? What is wrong with your pearl clutchers! Women are the most b*tchy EVER.

      • davidshort10

        But she is ugly and she is a woman. She looks wrong for the part because women who look like that are not allowed to be high civil servants. That’s British society.

      • davidshort10

        But she is ugly and she is a woman. She looks wrong for the part because women who look like that are not allowed to be high civil servants. That’s British society.

        • Michael990

          The woman who played Foyle’s minder was much more believable as a senior security officer, because of rather than despite her appearance.

      • plainsdrifter

        The mind boggles.

    • Tamerlane

      How do you know 009?

      • davidshort10

        Hugh Grant was well cast at the worst man in the world. He will be even better when he goes fully bald. What a wonderful pair he and Fry were. Fry is so appalling!

        • aspeckofboggart

          Agreed. LAURIE and Fry are such apalling people.

  • Steve Challenger

    Well I know that you are not allowed to be Prime Minister if you are Roman Catholic or worse, bald but I didn’t know that radiant good looks (in the real world) form part of the job specification for spooks. Anyway, Ms Colman is not, by any stretch of the imagination, “ugly”. She has come a long way since the “Bev and Kev” adverts though – remember those?

    • St Martyr

      Er she’s rough. She’s not pretty but I don’t think that is not why she’s not right-it’s just that she’s dowdy and looks like she’d be in a factory. Still, like her-ish as an actress.

      • ButcombeMan

        She is not right because the operatives concerned are generally not of that type, they are mostly of a type that does not stand out particularly, she does. In the wrong way.

  • davidshort10

    No.

    • interiris

      i hope not -he is far to good and actor to waste his time on Bond-it has lost any subtlety or charm since the ealieir days of Connery and Moore

      • davidshort10

        It is such an odd thing that the Daniel Craig Bond movies are even more successful than the Moore and Connery ones. I don’t go and see them and can’t even be bothered to watch them on TV. Perhaps he is part of the times, looking thuggish and angry all the time. Moore and Connery played men you could look up to.

        • Roderick

          Do we know how “even more successful” is measured?

          If it’s based on cinema ticket sales, have they been adjusted for inflation? I also hope it excludes additional revenues via sales of DVDs and VHS Cassettes, which were not available in the early days of Bond.

          • davidshort10

            I am not interested enough to look at the figures or adjust fro inflation but i am certain that the Daniiel Craig Bond movies are hugely more successful than the previous ones. I wish they were not.

          • St Martyr

            No they are not. The previous ones were HUGE and never had half or quarter the budget of these ones. EVERYONE watched Bond-I have not seen one of the new ones.

            Plus I grew up watching them in Africa as a small child visiting my Dad-we ALL new Bond. Now? No one knows Who the F Craig is in Africa. In fact Sean Connery is still an icon!

          • davidshort10

            As I can’t be bothered to look it all up and adjust for inflation, I cannot be certain whether the Craig Bond films are more successful than the others but reports suggest they are. However, I don’t think people will buy them or rent them or watch them after one viewing. I was in a small town not long ago and Spectre was playing. Normally I would have been bored enough and interested enough to go in and watch but I remember how draggy the previous one was. The silliness began when Judi Dench became M and nagged Bond for being a leftover from the Cold War when she was much older than she. And also when the woman (girl) berated Brosnan for being on his own. Lazenby didn’t get a chance to do a second one because of his hippyish tendencies. Fleming wrote Bond as a single man in his thirties who had a Scottish housekeeper and had precise requirements about how long his egg should be boiled and also about his marmalade and shampoo. People would now think he was gay. Fleming was for his time very liberal in his books about gays and also, for an Old Etonian, liberal about working class people getting on in life. But he was not all that liberal about foreigners, despite having been educated ‘abroad’ as well as Eton. People generally were against foreigners then.

          • St Martyr

            Roderick, if Bond from previously were to come out now? They would be more successful. These Bonds have been a huge let down. The Budgets have been HUGE and the returns? Only say 20-25% of the budget as profit.

          • Roderick

            I agree. The Bond actors have been a mixed bunch. Connery and Brosnan gave a pretty good representation of Fleming’s vision of Bond, imho. Moore, Dalton and Craig were, for differing reasons, pretty poor. These days Bond is little more than a thug built like a nightclub bouncer wearing a dinner jacket and not, as he should be, an old Etonian smoothie with hidden thuggish tendencies.

            (We’ll draw a veil over ‘Big Fry’ George Lazenby and his execrable portayal of Bond in the otherwise excellent film of OHMSS, and totally erase from memory David Niven’s appalling Bond in the slapstick comedy version of Casino Royale made in the 1960s.)

          • Roderick

            I agree. The Bond actors have been a mixed bunch. Connery and Brosnan gave a pretty good representation of Fleming’s vision of Bond, imho. Moore, Dalton and Craig were, for differing reasons, pretty poor. These days Bond is little more than a thug built like a nightclub bouncer wearing a dinner jacket and not, as he should be, an old Etonian smoothie with hidden thuggish tendencies.

            (We’ll draw a veil over ‘Big Fry’ George Lazenby and his execrable portayal of Bond in the otherwise excellent film of OHMSS, and totally erase from memory David Niven’s appalling Bond in the slapstick comedy version of Casino Royale made in the 1960s.)

        • gunnerbear

          I’m not keen on the new Bond films (Spectre was a turkey) but Daniel Craig has moved Bond on for the ‘Jason Bourne’ generation and DC has by and large done exactly what he was asked to do…..give Bond some grit, make it more action filled, crank up the volume and deliver the larger set-piece finales.

  • Tamerlane

    Seemed to me Hiddlestone was putting in one big audition for Daniel Craig’s replacement. Remember folks, you heard it here first.

    • Father Todd Untious

      You never say anything first. You merely respond to the thoughts of others. You are reactionary and very glib.

    • Michael990

      I thought he was aiming at Tintin with that odd hair style.

  • Castro Spendlove

    I though that Olivia Colman’s Angela Burr was a nod to a younger version of Beryl Reid’s Connie Sachs from TTSS (1979) replete with dingy office with non-functioning cast-iron radiators.

    p.s. Comments upon the looks of a lady, anyone for that matter, are not the words of a gentleman.

    • ButcombeMan

      But Connie was surely in charge of the Registry or similar, essentially a Librarian with memory. Not an SIS agent.

      i have not read the book, but the Burr character (as portrayed) is ludicrous. It spoilt the first episode for me, as did the office she was portrayed in.

      I will give it another chance, next episode, but Colman is wrongly cast.

      • Castro Spendlove

        Fair enough. I won’t be watching part two; it all seemed a little arch to me.

      • sir_graphus

        Burr was a man in the book (not that I’ve read it). Perhaps that makes it more believable. It’s a 1993 book, which explains why Sophie asked Pine to photocopy the documents, & why they were couriered to London, and why Burr’s assistant volunteered to make a phone call for her. They may have brought the book forward to the Arab spring, but they left these quaint antiquities in, which seemed a tad shoddy. As for Burr’s office having no heating, this makes it seem like le Carre was pining for the Cold War. That said, I am enjoying the series enormously.

        I agree with Castro Spendlove; that Coleman’s Burr was a nod to Connie, but not by le Carre.

  • interiris

    I thought Coleman was great and I am not even a fan.Having read the book and some additional reading on its conception I thought Tom was perfect for Pine and the updates perfect.For a first episode it moved quite quickly and with luck Tom will never stifle his career by playing Bond.I am looking for to seeing Hugh as Roper and how he manages it.All in all a good first episode and far more interesting than some silly comedy

  • Tom Cullem

    Tell it to the wife (he said bitterly)!

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    John leCarre delivers fiction for those that can’t handle the truth.

    • aspeckofboggart

      And after reading they then leave Britain as they can’t handle that as well.

  • starfish

    And so James how may top female spies have you actually met?

    And Olivia Coleman is not playing a field agent she seems to be more of an analyst

    A bit glitzy perhaps but I think the series has captured the seesence of the story in a modern setting

    Do youi really think that top arms dealers don’t live in luxury?

    That they don’t surround themselves with dodgy characters?

    Enjoy the high life?

    Have female consorts?

    Might actually, gasp, have a child?

    Be ruthless?

    Have questionable morals?

    PS James Bond isn’t real….don’t set your believeability scale by Daniel Craig, the least convincing secret agent in the world

    • gunnerbear

      If you get the chance (and haven’t seen them already) can I suggest the ‘Sandbaggers’ are worth a watch…..properly grimy, non-glossy intelligence work……

      • starfish

        Thanks -I’ll check it out

  • plainsdrifter

    Oh dear. I think you are being rather caustic.

    “The first is that The Night Manager is so respectful of its chosen genre as to occasionally verge on parody. (‘Are you like this with all your women?’ Sophie asked Pine at one point.)” Well actually, women do say this sort of thing to blokes, some blokes anyway.

  • I actually have a bit of a crush on Olivia Coleman.

Close