British television’s tendency is to be more conservative than American TV, meaning craftsmanship, good writing and acting trump originality. AMC’s new miniseries “The Night Manager” is a classic British mystery that excels at all of these components, making it a compelling mystery show.
The story, adapted from a novel by John le Carre, begins with the Egyptian revolutions of 2011. As these go on, the titular night manager of a hotel in Cairo, Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), dutifully tends to the needs of guests. In comes Sophie, the girlfriend of a wealthy and corrupt Egyptian businessman who is threatened by the political unrest. She gives Jonathan documents which reveal a wide ranging conspiracy involving a famous British philanthropist, Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). Back in London, SIS agent Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) is informed of the plot, but is told to keep quiet by her boss, who wants the affair to be kept quiet for complex political reasons.
Those familiar with other le Carre adaptations will recognize many common elements. Shady rich people, jilted lovers, vast government conspiracies and lone, incorruptible heroes made his works like “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “Smiley’s Children” so intriguing, both as novels and as visual media. “The Night Manager” works because it plays off of widespread suspicions about government, especially its foreign relationships. By portraying a recent conflict in the Middle East instead of the Soviet Union, the show feels current even as it is structured like a throwback.
The show’s many settings, from Cairo to Zurich to London, are all captured authentically by director Suzanne Biers. The revolution in Cairo is recreated realistically, and makes a contrast to the classic, regal hotel that Jonathan works at.
The cast is excellent. Hiddleston plays Jonathan with a sense of conservative decency that is reminiscent of Ralph Fiennes in “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Hugh Laurie may appear to be an odd villain, but his performance here is along the vein of character with which he started his acting career: the pompous rich gentleman. On “Jeeves and Wooster” and “Blackadder” he played these characters humorously, but here he takes the type to its insidious end. His wealth makes him arrogant, and he turns to a life of crime believing he is above the law. Olivia Colman plays Burr as a frustrated idealist, refusing to become jaded even as all around her are.
The show, called a miniseries in the U.S. but is a typical six-episode British season, is free from the constrictions of a film as well as the prolongations of an American television season. It is a reminder of how 13 or even 10-episode seasons can feel stretched out. By contrast, “The Night Manager” stays captivating during its limited run.
“The Night Manager” airs Tuesdays at 10 pm on AMC.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 25 print edition. Email Tony Schwab at [email protected]