Much of the ballyhoo around The Night Manager—a John Le Carré adaptation co-produced by the BBC, AMC and The Ink Factory—comes from comparisons to the James Bond franchise, which is, of course, pretty much antithetical to the much more grounded oeuvre of Le Carré. Still, the six-part miniseries invites those comparisons, and not for no reason. The Night Manager does trade in some of the trappings we associate with Bond: a malevolent male baddie who lives the high life jetsetting between gorgeous international locales, the baddie's lithe female arm-candy, and a hero bent on disrupting the baddie's evil enterprise while also stealing his girl, thank you very much. Plus, the series has a corker of an opening sequence, in which terrifying weapons morph into and out of elegant items like martini glasses and jewelry and tea sets.
And so it's no surprise that the very British, looks-good-in-a-suit Tom Hiddleston—cast as the central hero of The Night Manager—should be dogged by James Bond casting rumors in the days following the series' airing. Ironically, his titular character of Nefertiti Hotel night manager Jonathan Pine isn't much like James Bond at all. His practiced confidence is deferential, his strength sublimated. He's a furtive figure even before he's recruited as a spy, holding close to the vest his stint as a soldier in Iraq, and generally thinking quite a bit more than he's willing to say. These are the qualities that make him such an attractive recruit to Angela Burr (Olivia Colman), an intelligence operative whose deeply held convictions keep getting her pushed further to the outskirts of MI6.
Playing on Pine's anger and guilt over a crime he's unable to prevent at the Nefertiti, Burr convinces the hotelier to go undercover in the organization of Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). Roper has his own convincing cover story: to the world, he's the wealthy and charitable CEO of farm-machinery corporation Iron West. But, in reality, his wealth comes from illegal arms deals. Laurie gives good glare embodying this modern evil. He's austere and severe, but his mood can swing one way to fun-loving warm wit and generous hospitality, or another to terrifying outbursts of rage. Laurie makes a meal of it without ever becoming a caricature of villainy, and his tete-a-tetes with Hiddleston are some of the best scenes over the six hours.
Though Hiddleston and Laurie are the stars, complete with "executive producer" credits, the unequivocal heart of the story comes from Colman, in another brilliant performance. Tenacious, passionate, and pregnant, her Burr is a bit like the British funhouse-mirror version of Fargo's Marge Gunderson. Like any undercover story, The Night Manager derives most of its tension from how long the heroic operative can maintain his or her deep cover, but the most identifiable character here, the one audiences are liable to care about the most, is Burr, who will speak truth to power at any cost.
In most respects, The Night Manager is a very familiar story that's, for most of its running time, rather predictable and features a number of stock characters (Tom Hollander plays two in one, taking the edge off the archetypes of the gay henchman and the only one to sniff out the untrustworthiness of the mole). But screenwriter David Farr nicely paces out the story, and the final episode (even as it deviates from Le Carré's novel) nicely weaves together the various threads of the earlier installments, up to a payoff that's clever enough to satisfy.
Ultimately, this is a story that succeeds in the telling: in the work of Hiddleston, Laurie, and Colman and the steady hand of their director: notable feature-film helmer Susanne Bier (In a Better World, Things We Lost in the Fire). It's not hard to see why audiences happily devoted six hours to this novelistic, urbane spycraft travelogue, with satisfying plotting and yet more satisfying acting.
Sony delivers the goods with its Blu-ray release of The Night Manager: Uncensored Edition. Each of the six episodes gets a beaut of a transfer, which is crucial to the maximum enjoyment of this swanky, sleek, globetrotting production. Colors are rich and inviting, contrast well-calibrated with deep blacks, and the image tight, pinpoint-detailed and textured. Three episodes reside on each disc, and aside from a hint of banding in the horizon, there's no sign of compression artifacts. ("Uncensored Edition," by the way, means that each episode is uncut as originally aired on the BBC.)
Audio comes in a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 that nicely places effects for panning (typically vehicles and weaponry) and ambience in the rear channels, such as hotel patrons, office buzz, or environmental effects. The orchestral score gets a full-bodied treatment and, most important of all, dialogue stays above all distractions, clearly emerging from front and center.
Sadly, Sony hasn't ponied up for any bonus features: no AMC promos or EPK-style interviews (the latter were included on the U.K. "Complete Series" release but not ported over here). All the same, collectors will be well-pleased at the opportunity to own this television event in Blu-ray hi-def.
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