|'Bier shows a nous for mainstream satisfaction rarely glimpsed in her work in recent years'|
If Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy showcased John le Carré's work at its regular most un-Bond like self - severely damaged spies with exquisite insecurities attempting to find their place in the world - then The Night Manager unashamedly presents us with an alternative universe Bond. Though he is recruited from a mundane background, Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) eventually graduates to the whole Bond hog; femme fatales, luscious locations; even a vodka Martini, one of several points to go along with the opening credits that show the series unafraid of its inevitable Bond comparisons.
Though the quality of Susanne Bier's work on this six episode run is open to little doubt - this is a verifiable alternative to Bond whilst we wait for Spectre's follow-up to come along - the fact that it is so similar, so glamorous and unconcerned with the earthiness of spying that so often fascinates le Carré does also mean that it can often be open to questions of substance. Pine's quest, to bring down illegal arms smuggler Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) has some interesting notes about it. Roper is white and middle class, a far cry from Hollywood's traditional villains, and along the way we do come to doubt the position of people from a similar background, supposedly placed to protect us. But these are mere surface notes, explored with only as much depth as the snooping sub-plot which paid lip service to the concerns of the left in Bond's last, flat opus.
So, there's nothing revelatory here to take the Spy genre on another step, something le Carré has often managed to do within literature, but Bier does show a nous for mainstream satisfaction rarely glimpsed in her work in recent years. The familiar movements are here, harsher than Bond perhaps (a late kill in the episode five is particularly brutal, if not graphic), but the movements themselves are what has kept us coming back to the genre for years. Pine is dashing and easy to root for, Roper is weaselly evil, a Walt Disney lord of his little perfect criminal kingdom. In the supporting roles, Bier has Elizabeth Debicki as love interest Jed, perfecting the damsel in distress arc through agency and backstory. Whilst we don't quite get as much information as we should, we can at least glimpse why Jed is here, what she feels for the people who are here with her and how she might approach resolution.
Better yet is Olivia Colman as Pine's handler. Paired up often with David Harewood, playing Colman's American counterpart, they are jokingly self-referred to as 'a cowboy and a pregnant lady', but actually that is the only time the script makes reference to the fact that Angela Burr is a woman. For the rest of the time she just is; barking orders like M, steadfastly moral like the British bureaucrats are not.
As the pacy six episodes move on there are only rare dips which come too close to being mndane Spy formula, rather than referencing it and excelling at depicting it. A late question revolves around Roper's team playing 'guess the mole', whilst Pine hides in plain sight, a refrain seen far too often, as bluff and double-bluffs are hinted at. Wisely, the series move on quickly, returning Pine to a recognisable locale and old dangers. It's a nice example of a series coming full circle, retaining enough brevity to remember what it was so interested in during the early episodes. Hiddleston and Debicki sparkle, Laurie shows a manic evil cackle that works well, but it is Bier who excels, giving this the sheen the story demands and the character beats it deserves.