A friend who recently caught up with the 2011 movie version of the John le Carre novel, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” said she enjoyed the performances by Gary Oldman and Benedict Cumberbatch, but found the plot to be very hard to follow.
She was right to zero in on the very weird idea to make the complex book into a two-hour film, especially after it had been brilliantly adapted for a long-form British television miniseries in the 1980s (with one of Alec Guinness’ best late career performances).
Other le Carre books have suffered from the radical cutting that must be made in a two-hour movie of a novel. I love Diane Keaton’s performance in the 1984 film version of “The Little Drummer Girl,” but wish someone would redo it as a four- or five-hour miniseries.
Last week, thanks to Amazon Prime I caught up with the six-hour BBC/AMC version of ”The Night Manager” and was thrilled to see so many of the nuances of the novel explored in the adaptation. Le Carre is listed as one of the producers, and he allowed the filmmakers to update the story from 1990s Latin America to the contemporary Middle East.
Tom Hiddleston stars as a quintessential, conflicted le Carre hero, Jonathan Pine, an ex-soldier for the British forces in Iraq who is working at a deluxe Cairo hotel when the story begins. The man is clearly treading water while he figures out what to do next – he seems to have no friends or romantic attachments, but is terrific at handling the various messes that have to be taken care of in a great hotel.
Pine gets pulled out of his torpor after he is drawn to a hotel guest who is the mistress of a gangster involved with “the worst man in the world” – Richard Roper (played with chilling precision by Hugh Laurie), a British billionaire who masks his real career as an arms smuggler with various global philanthropic causes.
“The Night Manager” shows us how Pine is eventually used by British intelligence to infiltrate Roper’s organization in the hopes of stopping a major deal on the Syrian border. The hotel man is drawn into the luxurious world of Roper and his associates, with much of the story set at the mogul’s Mallorca retreat. Roper’s mistress, Jed Marshall (Elizabeth Debecki), and his right-hand man Lance Corkoran (Tom Hollander) become central figures in the narrative.
The suspense builds as we wonder when and if Roper will see through Pine’s carefully constructed façade. Le Carre loves to explore the tension of being a double-agent – forging a fake personality and fake alliances that deepen, along with the ever-present threat of “going native.”
Screenwriter David Farr and director Susanne Bier worked on all six episodes so there is a stylistic consistency to the whole production. The result is another shining example of British television’s long-term mastery of this unique dramatic form. If you missed “The Night Manager” when it debuted on AMC last spring, you can now enjoy it – without those annoying commercials — on Amazon Prime. A DVD version is also available.