The Night Manager is a skilfully crafted labyrinth- inside which you will witness collisions of pure evil and morality. Around every corner are new psychologically unnerving, anxiety inducing and pulse racing twists in the plot that will keep you hooked from the moment you start watching. The Chaos,terror and lies that fill Jonathan Pine’s reality, is enough to change the way you see money, people and power. So much so, that when you finally find your way out of the labyrinth, you know that you are a different person to the one who entered.
For anyone unfamiliar with the plot:
The Night Manger showcases a brief period in the life of Jonathan Pine, ex-soldier in Iraq, turned Night Manger. When Sophie Alekan, mistress to Freddie Hamid, hands Jonathan a confidential document containing a list of military weapons to be sold in a business deal and the names of those involved, Jonathan feels obligated to reveal the information to the British government. What Jonathan believes to be a act of valor, simply gives Hamid and his business partners justification for Sophie’s murder. Years later, and still haunted by Sophie’s death and his role in it, Jonathan agrees to help British Intelligence take down the man who orchestrated the killing; infamous weapons dealer and crooked business man, Richard Roper.
I’m sure there are people who could want to read more about the politics of the show; but I have chosen to examine characterisation; something that I feel plays a notable role in the shows greatness.
The show follows the story of our protagonist Jonathan Pine, played by the ever so brilliant, ever so handsome, Tom Hiddleston (who happens to be my favourite actor.) Tom Hiddleston breathes life into the character in a way that I dare say, not many actors could. His subtle yet extremely powerful performance stands testament to his acting abilities. Hiddleston makes having to slip in and out of the skin of many different characters seem effortless. He also elegantly manages to find the differences between each man, without losing the essence of whom the audience is rooting for; Jonathan Pine.
Despite playing the role of a man whose entire life changes and unravels, Hiddleston ensures that Jonathan Pine holds onto his grace and wits…ensuring that he reveals nothing about the lies he is keeping from his closest company. Despite having eyes that show greater expression than most actors have on their entire faces, Tom Hiddleston manages to subtly navigate and conceal his character’s emotions throughout a truly testing time.
Jonathan Pine, the Night Manager for the Nefertiti Hotel in Cairo, where our story begins, is a well put together, and charming, friendly man who seems to be able to handle any situation that is thrown in his path. When looked at in isolation, there is nothing about this description that would lead you to think of the character as being particularly captivating in any way. Yes, being charming and friendly are certainly likable qualities, but I wanted more…and I got more.
It didn’t take me very long to work out that what I was seeing of the character in the opening scenes of the show, was never going to be all there was to the him. It took some thinking on my part to realise that all of the polite qualities of who I thought was the real Jonathan Pine, belonged, not to him, but the man he was acting as when he put on his suit and took on the role as The Night Manager. Everything bland and far too polite was merely aspects of a façade, a mask that he wore. Jonathan’s ability to hide, to deceive and to act comes in handy later on when plays Jack Lindon…and when he slips into his shiny leather shoes to play Andrew Birch.
The question then becomes, “do we ever really know much about Jonathan Pine?” I wish I could say yes, but I always felt that what I knew about him, the real him,
was limited. One of the biggest personal moments we get to witness is how deeply and emotionally Jonathan is affected by the murder of Sophie Alekan and the guilt he feels towards her demise. Back in Cairo ( at the start of episode one) we come to meet Jonathan as he’s walking through a protesting crowd- he is one with the people. As he reaches the hotel he shows off how chummy he is with the rest of the staff and how close he is to the people around him.
Jump forward to Switzerland, we see a new man. A man who has chosen a life of isolation, by choosing to live far from the madding crowds, up upon a hill side in the Swiss mountains and a train ride away from the hotel he works at. Empathy, that is what Pine’s choice of isolation evokes within me. A once “one with the people” kind of man, Pine has now chosen to live alone in a cabin stripped of any personal belongs aside from his late father’s book. Still traumatised by his experience in Cairo, Pine seems to want to rid his life of any attachment to sentimentality, perhaps thinking that is didn’t do him any favours in the past. Although this change in Pine’s life speaks volumes about how Pine was affected by the horrors or Cairo, I still felt I wanted to know more about him.
Apart from his interactions with Sophie, the first time we truly get to see inside the clockwork of Pine’s mind, is during his first meeting with Angela Burr. It is clear from the start that Pine is unsure of what Angela can do to help him, yet he still meets with her. Handing over the sim cards that Jonathan found in Roper’s rubbish, Pine expresses his desire to stay out of whatever Angela plans to do with them. Skilfully, Angela draws on Pine’s past involvement in the military, encouraging him to think of the damage the weapons that Roper is selling can do. It takes only a jab of a screwdriver into the fuse box of Pine’s heart to get him to play his part in taking down Roper.
Tom Hiddleston is a very handsome man, and therefore Jonathan Pine is a very handsome man. I’m not mentioning this visual enjoyable fact to be crass, but rather because Pine’s looks play a part in the narrative. Like a moth drawn to a light bulb, women can’t seem to resist Jonathan Pine, Jack Lindon or Andrew Birch. Each woman that comes into contact with Jonathan seems to suffer somehow. First, as a result of Jonathan handing in the documents containing information about an arms deal, Sophie is blamed and murdered. A staged murder leaves a women in Devon traumatised. Finally “they can’t be, but want to be” love affair of Jonathan and Jed. A truly forbidden romance that is kept behind closed doors (Shakespeare come to mind for anyone else?) Jonathan’s attraction and love for Jed becomes a driving force in pushing him to complete the operation. Yet, like always, a woman who gets too close to Jonathan Pine is likely to suffer. Jonathan encourages Jed to help him blame Corky, and when Roper finds out…well, let’s just say that Jed’s pale skin becomes stained with blue and purple marks.
I turn now to Angela Burr, as a feminist I was delighted to see the gender switch for this character. Notably a male in John Le Carré’s novel, Angela burr is brought to live through the adaptation from novel to screen. I love Angela Burr, I bloody love her. It brought me nothing but joy to know that the conductor of the entire operation was orchestrated by a woman…and not just any woman, but a pregnant woman. Portrayed brilliantly by the wonderful Olivia Colman (who, to the best of my knowledge was actually pregnant while filming the show) Angela Burr stands as the antidote to the poison of Richard Roper and the corrupt men and women who follow him.
Being pregnant only brought greater depth to the character. My understanding was that Angela Burr would do anything in her power to ensure that her first and only child would not be born into a world where Richard Roper exists. Having a woman at the heart of the operation really added a certain maternal aspects to the whole situation. The fear and anxiety that I was feeling as Jonathan fell deeper and deeper into the world of Richard Roper, was personified by Angela Burrs desperation to ensure Jonathan’s safety, offering many times to pull him out.
On to Richard Roper. What stands testament to Hugh Laurie’s performance was the fact that I was absolutely bloody terrified of the character -which, when you consider that my love for Hugh Laurie knows no ends, is truly significant. One look from Richard Roper and my heart began to race (and not the same racing after seeing a close up of Tom’s eyes). There is something so daunting and authoritative about him, that he commands the entire room without even saying a word…and when he does say a word…you damn well listen.
Richard Ropers is a character who embodies the evils that comes with too much money and far too much self-appointed power. If you consider yourself high up on the food chain, why would you care about the lives of the people who exist at the bottom of it? Richard Roper, as smooth and as unassuming as he appears to be, could very well take his spot on the winners podium after completing a test of “who is the most blood chilling and sadistic villain to have ever been written into the world.” Yet he’s educated, speaks well and seems friendly enough (from afar), which I suppose is all part of the game.
Like the king in a game of chess, Roper hides behind his men (including Andrew Birch) and allows them to handle the real dirty work. I understood Roper as a sort of photo-negative of Jonathan Pine, the former being a man who seems to lack any sort of moral compass. Driven by his love of power, wealth and complete disregard for the consequences of the nature of his business deals, Roper has managed to make a name for himself as the worst man alive.
Although new to Roper’s world and his business partners, Andrew birch does not falter. With every word he speaks and every move he makes, he manages to bewitch, and win over every client, with a little bit of emotional manipulation, confidence and authority, that seems to radiate out of him. Adding to this, it is undeniable that Tom Hiddleston’s natural charisma on screen played part of Andrew Birch’s charm.
What is so brilliant about this is that it makes sense. After all, as a Night Manager, Jonathan gained great people skills and was thrown into situations that required him to deal with all sorts of different clients. So it would be logical that Jonathan Pine would indeed make a great Andrew Birch.
Now a fully formed minion to the evil man himself and a pawn in Roper’s destructive chess game, Andrew Birch has to navigate his way through Roper’s world. Having to avoid the doubtful eye of Roper’s right hand man, and having to control his feelings from Jed, Andrew Birch finds himself caught up in a chaotic world…and that’s not even mentioning the arms trading that he has to conduct.
Towards the latter half of the series I began to feel something; a gut feeling that I hoped was wrong. The feeling wasn’t as simple as me starting to doubt Jonathan’s loyalty to Angela Burr’s operation. It was something greater than that, something alive and growing. It was the belief of a possibility, a possibility that Jonathan might be so far into Roper’s world that he might not want to leave it. What fueled this doubt of mine was not that I could see the appeal of Roper’s world; bespoke suits, private jets and credit cards that could swipe away any troubling matter. No, what irked me was just how damn good Jonathan Pine was at being Andrew Birch. I watched in awe as he glided his way through every business deal. Seemingly effortless, Jonathan Pine melted into the charter of Andrew Birch and portrayed him so perfectly that, as mentioned before, I began to doubt his loyalty.
Sadly I now jump to the final scene of the show. The camera pulls away from Jonathan, who stands, rather symbolically in the doorway to the hotel where the story began. This final scene was enough to make me want to cry (and I’m sure I’m not alone.) So much has happened to the character and yet I couldn’t help but wonder if he lost more than he gained from the experience. In order to bring Roper down, and during his time with him, Jonathan had to do some truly horrible things, he killed two men, he lied to people he cared about, he found love, only to have that love leave him. There he stands, alone once again; perhaps destined to eternal isolation. All I could do was wonder about what would happen next for him? How can someone live through such a journey such as the one Jonathan went through and be expected so simply go back to the life he had before? I suppose there are positives…Jonathan finally got to live a full life, got to make a great impact on the world. He finally saw just how much greatness he could offer the world. I wouldn’t be surprised, in fact I would welcome the idea of Jonathan becoming a full time British Intelligence Agent. It would make further use of his skills and would allow him the full life he had come know when he was involved in Angela’s operation.
From a technical filming perspective, The Night Manager is a visual feast; a privilege to watch. With magnificent location shooting that takes your breath away and acting that sucks you so far into the story that you forget your own reality.
The Night Manager is brilliant, there is no denying that. It truly has something for everyone; for those who like action, there are explosions, arms deals, battles to the death. For those who enjoy t a more romantic narrative, the show explores the electric power of forbidden love and examines the lengths that people will go to, to protect those they care about. Perfectly written, acted and filmed, The Night Manger exceeded my impossibly high expectations.