Tom Hiddleston Is ‘The Night Manager’s’ Most Intriguing Mystery
AMC’s newest series is the smart, subtle spy show we need
by MATTHEW GAULT
When the wealthy guests arrive at the remote Swiss hotel, the night manager begins to see a dead woman. Wealthy philanthropist Richard Onslow Roper descends on the mountain and turns the resort into his private accommodation, and night manager Jonathan Pine can barely stand it.
Roper abuses the help and Pine sees the deathly visage of a woman he almost loved. Pine regrets not saving her and Roper is responsible for her death. It’s been four years since she died and now, for the first time, Pine is face to face with her killer.
After taking his new guest through his suite, Pine retreats to a private bathroom and vomits in the toilet. The ghost and Roper are too much to handle. This is AMC’s newest mini-series The Night Manager. The vomiting man is the hero.
The Night Manager is a six episode series based on John le Carré’s novel of the same name. The setup is deceptively simple. Philanthropist Roper is the CEO of the Ironlast corporation who uses his wealth and position to help refugees. But he’s made his billions in the illegal arms trade and he’s willing to kill to keep that business safe.
Jonathan Pine is a career hotel night manager who runs afoul of Roper and his organization. In time, British intelligence enlists Pine to help bring down Roper and expose him as a merchant of death.
Pine is in a great position. No one suspects the help. But Pine has secrets of his own and that’s one of the reasons The Night Manager is so good. At first it seems as if Pine is a hapless “right man, wrong situation” type of hero, but that’s not quite right. He’s a former British soldier who served two tours in Iraq.
“I saw things in Iraq that didn’t line up with what it means to be a soldier,” he says toward the end of the first episode. The show has not revealed what those things are, and it’s the mystery around this character and not the tension between Pine and Roper that will keep people watching.
How did a British soldier become a night manager, first in Cairo during the Arab Spring, then in Switzerland? Why does he work with British intelligence but also around them? Did he know Roper would come to that remote resort or was it an unhappy coincidence?
Tom Hiddleston plays Pine and breathes life into a cipher. Hiddleston fans want the dapper gentleman to play the new James Bond and The Night Manager makes a good case. Pine is reserved and cunning. An air of danger and desperation follows him through every scene. I think he’d be a very different Bond than what we’ve seen before. And that’s a good thing.
Because The Night Manager is very different from the spy shows we’re used to seeing. James Bond is a superhero franchise and Tom Clancy’s stories are geopolitical Mary Sues. Both are fun, but blunt and less than subtle. The Night Manager is the anti-Clancy.
Characters speak around each other. Plots unravel slowly. The audience must pay attention or it will miss a passing glance or a quick shot that reveals a hidden backstory or a character’s motivations. No villain will monologue about his evil plan.
And what a villain in this story. Hugh Laurie plays Roper and he’s brilliant. The British actor, best known for his turn as a medical Sherlock Holmes on House, has been criminally underutilized by Hollywood. It’s fun to watch him shine here.
Laurie had a comedy show in the early ’90s with Stephen Fry where he’d sometimes do a great sendup of Rupert Murdoch. Laurie is channeling his Murdoch into Roper and adding some class and cunning. When he arrives at the Swiss resort and meets Pine for the first time, he’s perturbed.
“Are you English, Pine?” he asks.
“To the core sir,” Pine responds with a small grin.
“Wise man,” Roper says and he turns his head but his eyes remain on Pine, probing for a reaction.
Roper’s been coming to the resort for years and he’s never met Pine before. For the rest of the episode, Roper cats sidelong glances at Pine and probes him for information. The interactions are small, but well written and better acted. Toward the end of the first episode, Pine is smoking a cigarette outside in the cold and Roper surprises him.
“Glimpse of the infinite,” Roper says, pointing towards the beautiful mountain sky.
“I find it comforting,” Pine says.
“To a point,” Roper grunts. Then he praises Pine for not putting out his cigarette, saying that most in the servant class would rush to hide their filthy habits from the guests. Roper seems to mean it as a compliment, but there’s a subtle implication there too: I know you aren’t who you say you are. I’m watching you.
And he’s right. After watching the first episode I’m still not quite sure who he is. Is he a wounded soldier who wants to run hotels? A deep cover agent tasked with taking down Roper? A man with a certain skill set who finds himself in desperate situations or, perhaps, puts himself there without realizing?
I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out.
The Night Manager is airing on AMC every Tuesday night for the next six weeks.