Beginning with The Tailor of Panama in 2001, John le Carre adaptations have slowly come back into fashion. After the Pierce Brosnan-Goeffrey Rush joint (which also features a teeny-tiny Daniel Radcliffe), there was Fernando Meirelles’ incredible The Constant Gardener, and the resurgence hit full-swing with 2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and 2014’s underrated A Most Wanted Man. Suffice it to say that it’s a good time to get into the spy business, and in that regard, AMC’s adaptation of The Night Manager, based on le Carre’s 1993 novel, is perfectly timed.
The miniseries also returns the business of spy stories to the medium that has served them best. The examples mentioned above constitute a trend of not just le Carre adaptations, but good le Carre adaptation, but the art form’s heyday was back in ’79 and ’82 with the Tinker, Tailor miniseries and its follow-up, Smiley’s People, both starring Sir Alec Guinness. In the six to eight hour range, a le Carre story has the room to take its time to dive in the murky moral and psychological depths of spycraft with the sad, bureaucratic men and women (more on that later) who play the game.
And if that doesn’t sound appealing to you, I just don’t know what to tell you.
But The Night Manager is a bit of a strange beast of a le Carre adaptation, and the differences are apparent from the word “go.” In 1993, the novel was the author’s first major foray away from the cozy geo-political crisis he called his literary home for two decades, and in 2016, the plot is pushed even further from the Cold War, to Cairo in the throws of the Arab Spring.
The man at the center of it all — actually, the man politely passing through the center of it — is Jonathan Pine, a man so tall, fair, and eloquent that he couldn’t possibly be just the night manager of the Nefertiti Hotel. He’s the kind of guy you’d see working the front desk during a social uprising and wonder, “Is that dude a spy?” The answer to that question by the end of the first hour is decidedly “Not yet,” but we can see the makings of a solid informant.
Pine has a history to him. There’s a reason he’s found himself working the night shift in a hotel call far from his native England. I could relay the backstory provided in the novel, which Hiddleston has often referred to as a great source of inspiration for his Pine, but the third chapter opens with a beautiful, complex, and succinct summary of the man.
Jonathan Pine, orphaned only son of a cancer-ridden German beauty and a British sergeant of infantry killed in one of his country’s many post-colonial wars, graduate of a rainy archipelago of orphanages, foster homes, half-mothers, cadet units and training camps, sometime army wolfchild with a special unit in even rainier Northern Ireland, caterer, chef, itinerant hotelier, perpetual escapee from emotional entanglements, volunteer, collector of other people’s languages, self-exiled creature of the night and sailor without a destination, sat in his sanitary Swiff office behind reception smoking his third unusual cigarette and pondering the sage words of the hotel’s revered founder that hung framed alongside his imposing sepia photograph.
Makes you feel like you’re not a very good writer, huh? Me too.
NEXT: Things get Bond-y