Its odd how little British TV we watch these days. There is Doctor Who, obviously, but outside of that very little of what appears on the screen in our house is from the UK. I'm not entirely sure why - certainly there are a lot of British actors on our screen, just, it seems, in US shows. Instincitvely it feels like something has gone wrong; that the preconception my generation grew up with the British TV was the best in the world has been usurped by the dastardly Yanks and their HBOs and Showtimes. Its not to say that I'm not on the lookout for some up-market British Drama - And Then There Were None was a high-light of the Xmas season, and now we have a similiarly high-class adaptation of John Le Carre's The Night Manager, starring Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie.
Every time I see Hugh Laurie, part of my brain still sees Bertie Wooster. He's become such a great actor in the years since, a commanding prescence that seems such a far cry from those early roles, but still I can't shake it. The Night Manager shows Laurie at his darkest as a brutally amoral arms dealer living the high life; glamourous locations, dazzling comfort, and absolutely no compunction about the wreckage his sales leave behind. It's into this lifestyle that Tom Hiddleston inflitrates, undermining and, ultimately attempting to destroy.
There is something about Hiddleston that runs through all his roles too, a faint hunted sense that links most of his work, a sense that under that charm there is something desperate and broken. Here that natural charm is held back outside of a few scenes where his character is "putting it on", presenting to potential buyers, that sort of thing, leaving him a brooding, subdued presence, an enigma that draws people to him without the obvious hook. The show works an uneasy romance between the two, each drawn and repelled from the other.
The third big role here is Olivia Coleman as the (gender flipped) British Intelligence Agent "running" Hiddleston. Coleman's character is instantly recognisable as a le Carre creation; her battered offices, bureaucratic slogging and beaten-down determination is a great contrast to the cars and boats and glamour that is the backdrop to much of the show. I feel I should also mention the chameleonic Tom Hollander, who turns what could be a fairly cliched role (tragic self-hating gay man? really?) into a role with pathos and grit.
So thats the acting, and boy does The Night Manager deliver on that front. I do think it staggers a little in the middle - which for a 6 episode show is pretty poor, really - as pieces move around the board but the propulsive sense of the opening and closing pairs sort of goes missing. I'm certainly not going claim it was ever bad, but certainly it has a little bit of a wobble. Even with that though, this is a quality bit of TV, and well worth watching. But even at the end I'm left thinking that this is six episodes, why can we not manage a full series, or more? Why can't we compete?