I review a whole season rather than individual episodes, so there is a chance of spoilers. If you haven’t watched the whole season yet, stop reading now!
America are very good at delivering high-concept big budget dramas, while the Scandinavian countries deliver gritty, cold and hard-edged crime and political dramas, British television delivers the best in spy thrillers through. Not James Bond, proper spy thrillers. Thrillers based on source material by John Le Carre, an ex-spy himself, who also penned Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. This is a proper spy story, with a man hiding in plain site, under the radar and next to his target, played here by the impressive Hugh Laurie.
In fact, Laurie is one of the series biggest achievements. He is pure nastiness in The Night Manager, playing the corporate tycoon and evil arms dealer Richard Roper. To distance this from Bond further, Laurie’s Roper isn’t a man who is devilish for the sake of it. He isn’t a camp, world-dominating villain in a volcanic lair. The series develops his character, shows his motivations, his weaknesses and what makes him so nasty but also so scary. It makes for a much more interesting dynamic between Laurie and the hero of the title, as well as much more satisfying when the villain loses!
It helps that his foil is the charming and surprisingly convincing spy, Tom Hiddleston. This doesn’t feel like the same man who played the slimy and conniving Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or more suave and darker characters like he has played in Crimson Peak. This is an assertive Hiddleston, who has clearly been working out, can handle himself in more aggressive and action focused situations and is a believable hero for the series.
The series isn’t just about these two characters though and it develops a tale which stretches far and wide. It is a globe-trotting series, as well as one which has a foot firmly back in London and within British government, with Olivia Coleman giving her always reliable support to Hiddleston.
The story is one full of twists, turns and lots of edge of your seat moments. Hiddleston finds himself in lots of tricky situations and he isn’t the kind of spy to use gadgets or even muscle to always find his way out. The writing keeps the audience on their toes and the resolutions always satisfy.
This is even down to the great finale. The first episode is quite weak but once the series is viewed as a whole, everything comes full circle effectively, the way that everything is wrapped up, with very little given away until the moments are revealed, is both surprising and satisfying.
Overall, The Night Manager is an effective spy thriller that puts the serious, realistic espionage back into the genre. It is acted brilliantly, with Hiddleston a convincing hero and Hugh Laurie an incredible villain. The story will keep you guessing and is resolved convincingly but quite surprisingly as well.
Best Episode – Episode 6: The finale is exciting and a good conclusion to the whole series.
Best performance – Hugh Laurie as Richard Roper
Should there be another season? – No, this works as a self-contained series.
Season Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)