torsdag 8 september 2016

The Night Manager or Stereotype City

"He's sleeping with the nanny. The cliché."

Yes it is, sweetheart, and that's not the end of it. Look around you and you will see plenty more. How about the ruthless capitalist villain; his eye candy the vulnerable blonde who sends money, Fantine-like, to her hidden-away child; the camp henchman; the libertine toff (that would be your hubby sleeping with the nanny); his embittered wife (that would be you); and, for that matter, the strong, silent, troubled hero you're talking to. What's more, back in London, we have a fearlessly crusading, underfinanced female agent (she's also pregnant), struggling with male superiors such as the well-meaning but intimidated one and the obviously crooked as a pin one. By the end of episode four, I realised why I cared so little about the characters in the TV series The Night Manager: each and every one of them was a stereotype.

It was still entertaining enough, mind you, because it's well-paced, well-directed, well-produced and very well acted indeed. But I didn't expect a drama based on a work by a famous name such as John le Carré to be as frankly shallow as this. Maybe I did suspect that Richard Roper, the seemingly philantropic businessman who is really a vile illegal arms dealer (well of course: a businessman helping refugees? We can't have that!) would not turn out to be a wonder of complexity. Still, I thought there would be some interest shown in the psychological forces at work in an undercover operation where, however worthy the cause, there's always an element of betrayal. But no: the audience's main interest is supposed to be simply whether Jonathan Pine, the eponymous night manager, will manage to nail the dastardly Roper. Not what drives them, what they really think of each other or if they're actually that dissimilar. Basically, The Night Manager is Bond as TV, with a side-helping (mercifully not too owerpowering) of moral indignation. All Roper needs to fit the Bond villain template is a white cat.

It's a pity, because Hugh Laurie does such excellent work as Roper, dispelling all memories of Bertie Wooster (mind you, I think even Bertie would have sussed who the mole in his operation was before Roper does). He's suitably world-weary, authoritative and charismatic, but he gets precious little to work with. In spite of the odd villain monologue, we never really discover what makes Roper tick: just like Pine himself, he remains oddly remote. Does he love his vulnerable blonde girlfriend, for unknown reasons called Jed, for example? Does she ever love him, before she finds out what he does for a living and falls for Pine instead, or is she only in it for the money? Does Pine love her? I know it's hard to interact with stereotypes, but the leading men in this drama could at least have been given a chance. Instead, Roper talks a great deal without saying anything revealing, and Pine doesn't even talk much. He just stares intently.

Another problem with Roper, as I've already hinted, is that he's a such a complete blockhead it's a wonder the crusading agent Angela Burr hasn't caught him ages ago. First, he elbows aside his oldest friend on the say-so of a shady lawyer who's been got at by Angela (and not in a very angelic way either, incidentally: she manipulates him when he's distraught over his daughter's suicide), in order to make room for Pine whom he has known for five minutes and who, oooh, just happened to be there to foil a kidnap attempt on Roper's son (staged, what did you think?). In no time at all, Pine is privy to Roper's darkest secrets and his new straw man. The shady lawyer is discovered to be a mole: Roper smells no rat. Pine starts an affair with Jed: his boss notices nothing amiss. Another leak is suspected: Roper suspects his best friend, his next-best friend and his girlfriend (at least he's not far wrong there), but not the new guy, who joined the team at around the time when the leaks started. I mean, seriously: it's hard to have any kind of respect for a head villain, however stylish, who's so incredibly gullible.

What's a villain-lover to do? I, for my part, took to rooting for Roper's displaced-by-Pine sidekick, Major Corkoran aka Corky the camp henchman. Yes, he wouldn't look too out of place as one of the hitmen in Diamonds Are Forever, but he has a bit more going for him than his dim mate-cum-boss: he's suspicious of Pine from the word go; he quickly guesses Pine's interest for Jed; Tom Hollander, who plays him, milks every line and every pause, and as Corkoran starts to come apart at the seams he manages to transcend the stereotype at least a little bit. Go Corky, say I, and if that makes me predictable at least I'm in good company.

A lot can be said about how Olivia Colman admirably manages to make Angela not too unsufferably virtuous, but you don't expect me to waste too much time on a mere goody-two-shoes, do you? Instead, let me ponder, as a last reflection, the conundrum that is Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine.

Is Hiddleston really that attractive? Seeing as 1) he played Loki in the films about Thor (reimagined as a superhero) 2) played him quite superbly if clips from the films are to be trusted then 3) if you are into villains and the least bit acquainted with old Viking mythology, it follows that yes, Hiddleston must be attractive. His eyes are too close together for him to be conventionally handsome, but they are very intensely blue, and he does look clever. He can pass for the thinking woman's crumpet - but as Pine, he's supposed to be everyone's crumpet. Even after tanning and workouts Hiddleston looks a bit out of place as a taciturn action man, and it's a mystery to me why he's gone to all this trouble to land a part like this. With his pixie-like face, he could have got all kinds of new meaty villain roles: instead, as Pine, he has to scowl purposefully while all the opportunities for dripping sarcasm and menace go to Hollander and occasionally Laurie. Enjoying the career change yet, Tom? I do hope that Bond bid proves worth it.