BFI TV Festival Part 2: The Night Manager

War is a spectator sport 

broadcaster: BBC (iplayer and on DVD) 

inspired by: The Night Manager (novel) by  John le Carré

directed by: Susanne Bier 

with:

Hugh Laurie as Richard Onslow Roper

Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine

Olivia Colman as Angela Burr 

Tom Hollander as Major “Corky” Lance Corcoran 

Elizabeth Debicki as Jed Marshall 

Alistair Petrie as Alexander “Sandy” Langbourne, Lord Langbourne

Natasha Little as Caroline Langbourne, Lady Langbourne  

Is there anything better to watch than Hugh Laurie in his true British accent? (Yes, for all Dr. House fans out there, Hugh Laurie IS NOT American…) That’s exactly the question one asks before realising that the cast also includes Olivia Colman, Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Debicki, Alistair Petrie and Tom Hollander… This remarkable ensemble, which proves that there is absolutely no limit as to how many talented actors one can hire, is one of the reasons why The Night Manager captivated so many across the globe.

Inspired by the homonymous novel by the talented writer John le Carré, and adapted for the small screen by David Farr, this TV mini-series is truly wroth the recognition and awards it received.

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While the original story takes place after the Cold War, with spies lurking in the not so distant past and the threat of conflict and disaster more present than ever, this television adaptation places the protagonists in the twilight of the Arabic Spring and the dawn of military turmoil in the Middle East. Starting from the unrest in Egypt just before Mubarak’s resignation, the plot follows Jonathan Pine, a self-exiled and solitary night manager at one of Cairo’s most prominent hotels. Respected for his military past and recognised for his trustworthy yet mysterious countenance, Pine is confided in by the mistress of a prominent arms dealing Arab family.

Quickly after the Arab Spring and in the confinements of a luxurious Zermatt establishment, Colman as MI6 agent Angela Burr discovers the ‘lurking psychopath’ inside Pine and quickly throws him into a world of corruption, weaponry, deceit and wealth led by Laurie as Richard “Dicky” Roper. In this espionage mystery, that blends Cold War literature with 21st century James Bond suspense, The Night Manager is a TV show everyone should watch.

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In the BFI’s panel, executive producer Simon Cornwell, director Susanne Bier and actors Tom Hiddleston and Alistair Petrie unveiled the secrets behind the series and discussed the making of what is considered one of the best BBC productions. It was a true delight to hear them all, and the positive energy emanating from the cast and crew was palpable in the air. Alistair Petrie, the notorious Lord Langbourne and Roper’s trusted lawyer, proved to be the wittiest and funniest member of the panel with a classic debonaire British flare and an exciting sense of humour. Tom Hiddleston, loved and admired by an alarming amount of women is as charming and intelligent as the roles he play and the magnificence that is Susanne Bier was reflected in the respect of everyone towards her inspired directing work.

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Susanne Bier works her magic in almost every scene of the series. Her decision to focus on the the eyes, and the repeated shots of both Laurie’s and Hiddleston’s profiles adds to the implied difference between the characters and deepens the plot. In the words of Petrie and Hiddleston, she was always clear on her instructions and set on creating the perfect shot. 

The cast talked about the importance of rehearsals and how with Bier’s guidance quickly everyone knew exactly what to do and where to be. According to Bier, it was important to not shoot the scenes in a linear timeline. Apart from the travelling demands of the series, covering areas such as Morocco, Zermatt and Majorca, Bier felt that by shooting first the ending, then the beginning and then the middle gave the actors an intricate element of the unexpected that would be otherwise lacking.

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Hiddleston remarks that Roper and Pine can be seen as different sides of the same coin. While both men share a similar sense of finesse and perceptiveness and Pine can easily assimilate himself in the world that Roper has created, there is a clear albeit fine red line that separates them. In the words of Hiddleston, what seems to divide the two men is their moral codes. Roper sees war as business, luxury as necessity and the death of millions as collateral damage. Pine on the other hand, has a more grounded sense of justice and cannot live in the space between evil and professionalism that Roper seems to occupy. As Hiddleston points out, Roper could be Pine’s father and Pine could be Roper’s sons but they could never entirely be on the same page. They are mere reflections in a distorted mirror that never represents things clearly.

Apart from the intelligent discussion on the book (and the discovery that Tom Hiddleston has memorised the first paragraph of the 3rd chapter…!), the panel indulged in light bantering and humour that seemed to put everyone at ease.

With Petrie taking the lead and Hiddleston following up close, the panel shared secrets, bloopers and inside stories. According to Petrie, one of the greatest upsides to playing Lord Langbourne was the dapper suits.  And we could not disagree, whether as Lord Langbourne or as himself, Petrie was indeed immaculately dressed!

Improvised scenes, from Tom Hollander manhandling Hiddleston (“Without permission” mumbled Hiddleston), to Hugh Laurie intensifying a scene by picking up a gun (“Dr. House put the gun down!”, exclaimed Petrie), to trying to act flirty with a nanny who happens to be the directors daughter, to revealing that the luxurious plane was in fact a cardboard box, the panel truly revealed every single secret! Including the fact that Alistair Petrie had an extra experience when trying to immerse into the character of infamous lawyer Lord Langbourne.

No! Don’t get me wrong Alistair Petrie is NOT an arms dealer…!

One of the best moments of the panel was when the discussion included the creator of it all, novelist John le Carré, and his experience as a part of the show. Bier applauded le Carré for withstanding nine hours of shooting in the boiling hot Morocco set, while Petrie and Hiddleston remarked the unbelievable quality of natural acting that he presented. Can anyone contain le Carré and his unscripted additions to the show? For those who have seen it you can imagine what I mean, for those who have not, i’ll let you discover it!

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The panel ended on a friendly and fun note with the cast throwing hints on multiple emails sent with new ideas and a somewhat confirmation  for a second season. According to executive producer Simon Cornwell, ‘we will only create more if it can live up to the first and bring something extra to the Night Manager. Unfortunately, there is no second novel to adapt. But we are all willing.’

And we cannot help but agree!

So, fingers crossed fans, our wishes might come true…

One thought on “BFI TV Festival Part 2: The Night Manager

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