‘The Night Manager’ Premiere Recap: “There We Have It, the Changing of the Guards”

A co-production with the BBC, AMC’s new spy thriller drama ‘The Night Manager’ aired in the UK a couple months ago and has only made its way across the pond starting last week. British viewers already know how it ends, yet we’re just starting it now. Based on the first episode, it may be one of the best things on television at the moment. Too bad it’s only a six-part miniseries.

Adapted from a 1993 novel by master of espionage fiction John le Carré, the story was the author’s first to take place after the end of the Cold War. For the television version, some of the details of the setting have been moved forward to reference contemporary events. Tom Hiddleston stars as Jonathan Pine, the night manager of a posh hotel in Egypt that, in 2011, gets caught in the middle of the Arab Spring movement. As the city streets outside the building erupt in protests and riots, Pine does his best to maintain a sense of normalcy and keep business running as usual for his (mostly Western) clientele. A former British army vet, he isn’t fazed by a little chaos.

Pine’s efforts are greatly complicated by a guest named Sophie Alekan, the mistress of hot-headed Arab arms dealer Freddie Hamid. As blackmail capital to ensure her own safety, Sophie stole important documents that link Hamid to a major arms deal involving a shady British businessman named Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), whom Sophie describes as “the worst man in the world.” Making sure to let him see the documents to know exactly what they are, Sophie asks Pine to make copies and hold them aside, only to be released in the event that something should happen to her. Playing dumb about the nature of the content, Pine assures her of his discretion. However, when his conscience gets the better of him, he brings the papers to a friend at the British Embassy who works for MI-6.

From there, the information makes its way to England and into the hands of intelligence analyst Angela Burr (Olivia Colman from ‘Broadchurch’), who’s obsessed with bringing down Roper but finds her attempts stymied by the agency’s bureaucracy at every turn. Although she immediately recognizes the importance of these documents, she’s ordered to stand down and do nothing with them. The powers-that-be at MI-6 would rather let Hamid deal with Roper, a devil they know whose motivations (pure Capitalist greed) they understand, than partner with some religiously-motivated zealot who might potentially be even more dangerous. Angela does not buy into this line of reasoning.

Unfortunately for Sophie, Roper’s influence extends even into MI-6. When he gets tipped off that the agency is looking into him, Roper cancels the deal with Hamid, who suspects that his girlfriend is the leak and takes his anger out on her. When Pine finds Sophie beaten and bruised, he quickly moves her to another room in the hotel and tells Hamid that he hasn’t seen her recently. Feeling guilty for his part in what happened to her, Pine makes arrangements for Sophie to leave the city and stay at the house of a friend. She insists that he come with her, and because he’s also developing feelings for her, he agrees. That night, she seduces him.

Pine recognizes that this is only a temporary solution and he needs to get Sophie out of the country. He meets with his friend from MI-6 about arranging to move her to England, only to be told that England doesn’t want her and won’t grant a visa. Further, she’d be no safer in London (where Roper’s tendrils are everywhere) than in Egypt. The friend recommends that Sophie go back to her boyfriend and find a way to convince him that she had nothing to do with the document leak. This isn’t the answer Pine wanted to hear. It’s especially not the answer Sophie wanted to hear. Furious that Pine failed her, she defiantly returns to her old room in the hotel and waits for Freddie to find her.

A very resourceful woman, Angela gets wind of what’s happening and calls Pine at his job to warn him that Sophie’s life is in danger if he doesn’t get her out of the hotel immediately. Pine races to her room, only to find her already dead. Devastated, he calls the police and spills the beans that Freddie Hamid is certainly the killer. The corrupt cop in charge of the case tells Pine to his face that the death will be blamed on a burglar, and if he presses the issue, perhaps it will be blamed on him instead.

The story then jumps ahead four years. Pine has left Egypt and started a new life working a similar night manager job at an exclusive hotel in Switzerland. The snowy environment couldn’t be more different from the desert he left, but that’s not enough to keep his past from finding him. One day, none other than Richard “Dickie” Roper checks into the hotel, bringing along an entourage of security, sycophants, and a slutty girlfriend.

Roper has no reason to know who Pine is, so Pine puts on a friendly face and checks him into a suite. However, he secretly withholds a package he was supposed to deliver to Roper and opens it. He also goes through the man’s trash. He then digs up his old contact info for Angela Burr and tells her that he wants to help take Roper down. She flies right out to Switzerland to meet with him and plan their next steps.

In typical John le Carré fashion, the story is fascinating and intricately plotted. The performances from the cast are also all first-rate, and the direction by Susanne Bier (‘Things We Lost in the Fire’) is slick and engrossing. (The show even starts with some very James Bond-ian opening titles.) I’m hooked and look forward to seeing this through.

Grade: A-

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