In the best James Bond movies, the scenes that stand out most don’t involve much killing. In Goldfinger, 007 plays a round of golf with the villain to figure out his true intentions. In Casino Royale, he sneaks into a poker tournament to force his nemesis into a financially precarious situation, thus making him vulnerable. In both of these scenes, there’s not a single shot fired and yet they’re still able to build an atmosphere of suspense.
The Night Manager, a six-hour miniseries that premieres tonight on AMC, feels very much like a classic Bond movie. Tom Hiddleston (Loki from the Avengers movies) plays Jonathan Pine, a night manager at a hotel in Cairo. Without dropping any spoilers, I’ll just say that he eventually crosses paths with Richard Roper (played by Hugh Laurie of House fame), an international arms dealer who pretends to be a philanthropist for Middle Eastern refugees. As you’d expect, this encounter doesn’t end well, and Pine begins working with British intelligence to take down Roper by infiltrating his organization.
I (somewhat illegally) binge-watched all six episodes of the show this past weekend, and it’s pretty great. Based off a novel by John le Carré, one of the best spy novel writers of all time, the show hits a lot of the same notes that made shows like 24 and Homeland so popular.
Those shows knew how to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Will the warehouse Jack Bauer’s about to raid contain the nuke that will detonate in 20 minutes? How will Brody respond when Carrie confronts him about being a terrorist at an isolated cabin in the middle of the woods? These shows constantly put their protagonists in compromising situations where anything could happen, unlike similar shows where the heroes always catch the villain and no one dies and there’s a happy ending.
At every moment of The Night Manager you’re wondering whether Pine will push himself too far in trying to expose Roper and get himself killed. He sneaks into private areas of Roper’s lavish Spanish mansion, he steals people’s cell phones and he eavesdrops constantly. There’s a metaphor in the show about the classic “Hidden Ball” magic trick, and it’s very appropriate. Everyone on the show is hiding something and trying to trick others into seeing something else.
The show is structured like a movie. The first episode, set in Cairo, introduces Jonathan Pine and exposes him to the horrors of Richard Roper. In the second episode, Pine decides to cooperate with British intelligence to take him down. In the third and fourth episodes, he begins working his way into the inner circle. I won’t say too much about the fifth and six episodes, other than the whole thing comes to head in these two. If this were a movie, these two episodes would be the dramatic climax, but instead of a fifteen-minute standoff between the hero and the villain, it’s two hour-long episodes.
While the show would clearly be a solid movie (there was a film adaptation in development at one point starring Brad Pitt), the miniseries format works better. In a movie, it would take 15 minutes for Pine to work his way into Roper’s organization and it would feel unnatural and forced. By setting it over two episodes, we see a believable evolution as Pine goes from stranger to confidant.
Hiddelston’s great, playing Jonathan Pine as the most charming man in the world. He’s funny, he’s unassuming and, most important, he’s trustworthy. After seeing this show, I could definitely imagine Hiddleston playing James Bond should Daniel Craig stop playing the part.
Laurie is also fantastic as Roper. He’s also incredibly charismatic, but he definitely hints in the early episodes that there’s a layer of sinister hidden below (by the end of the show, his evil side comes out in full force). Tom Hollander, who’s basically been in every single popular British TV show or movie ever, steals every scene as Major Lance Corkoran, a member of Roper’s inner circle who distrusts Pine from the beginning. And Elizabeth Debicki plays Roper’s girlfriend Jed, which sets up the love triangle between her and the two main characters. Usually I’m not a fan of that sort of plot device, but the show clearly depicts Jed as conflicted in her relationship with Roper so it isn’t quite as cliché as it could be. And honestly, if a slightly cliché love triangle is the worst part about a show, then it’s in pretty good shape.
Having seen all six episodes, I can say that the first episode is pretty dramatically different than the rest. It’s set in Cairo at the height of the Arab Spring and does a pretty good job depicting the tension of that time. Pine is just a night manager at a hotel and doesn’t go into spy mode until the end of the second episode.
I’ll also briefly mention that in the British version there was nudity and F-bombs, which I’m assuming will be censored on AMC. None of that should impact the show at all, although you will have to do some Internet surfing if you want to see a video clip of Tom Hiddleston’s bare butt.
The Night Manager is the type of spy thriller that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. Instead of relying on the tension of an undercover agent sneaking in the shadows, movies nowadays would rather put Tom Cruise in a giant underwater tank without enough oxygen or have people crash cars into giant skyscrapers. Even the James Bond movies have gone from the stripped down 007 in Casino Royale to having major villains blowing up buildings in London and sending out attack helicopters in the middle of Mexico City. The Night Manager is a show for people who are tired of Blockbuster-ification of spy movies and prefer a compelling narrative over a heavily scripted action sequence. So if that sounds like the kind of thing you enjoy, then The Night Manager is for you.
At the very least you should watch it so my “Tom Hiddleston to Play James Bond” campaign can start gaining some traction.
Joseph Misulonas is an assistant editor for Playboy.com. He can be found on Twitter at @jmisulonas.