If I were a spy, I wouldn’t tell you. Sorry. We just don’t have that kind of relationship yet. But, if we did, you would know that I am far better qualified to judge the authenticity of TV shows about tea-drinking and being crap at soccer than one like The Night Manager about spying. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to try anyway.
Centering on Tom Hiddleston’s Jonathan Pine – night manager to hotels in war-prone hotspots, and occasional spy for the British Secret Intelligence Service – The Night Manager is adapted from a book by John Le Carré, himself a former employee of both Mi5 and Mi6. It’s no surprise, then, that it is as interested in the tension of political machination and personal intrigue as in explosions, gun fights and dead letter boxes.
Assessing the authenticity of that is tricky. The whole point of spying is that we don’t see it, don’t hear about it, don’t know how it’s done at all. However, by gorging on reliable spy-world sources like Prospects.ac.uk and old episodes of Burn Notice, I feel completely prepared. Now I am ready to ask the The Night Manager’s why it feels qualified to be a spy and to score the responses as if I was a supercilious job interviewer drunk on power over my fellow human beings.
Being innocuous: The number 1 tool of any good spy is being able to blend into the background. While Mr. The Night Manager appeared to crave attention to a less worrying degree than the last candidate, Commander James Bond, his willingness to walk through the Arab Spring to get to work, need to sex everything that moves, and dreamy, dreamy blue eyes still raise serious concerns about his ability in this area. Indeed, it is to be doubted whether Mr. The Night Manager was even really suited to his former role in hotel supervision, never mind as a prospective spy.
Motivation: Mr. The Night Manager appears to be motivated entirely by father-issues, guilt and a desire to avenge the death of a woman he barely
knew. His score for motivation is therefore exemplary, and in the finest tradition of the field.
Coolness under pressure: Ahh… In this discipline, Mr. The Night Manager really started to perform quite expertly, exhibiting an impressive implacability in situations tense enough to tie my stomach in knots that would do a seaman proud.
Report-drafting skills: Rather surprisingly given his employment history in administration, the candidate was able to offer little evidence of any proficiency.
Communication skills: Although Mr. The Night Manager’s own communication skills are rarely on display, he did exhibit a strange magnetism that has meant this never affects him. Important details are divulged to him on a regular basis and he regularly seduces desirable targets without doing much more than grunting, something which we can only put down to his fortuitous results in the genetic lottery.
Of course, Jonathan Pine is not the only character associated with the candidate; others, particularly a female spymaster called Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) – alternately racked with worry, conscience and delight over her role in pushing vulnerable people into life-endangering acts of betrayal – are more convincing and perhaps more compelling. On this basis, we must offer the program a qualified pass.
Tradecraft: Here, Mr. The Night Manager is woefully under-qualified, even in comparison with more understated competitors like Mr. Bridge of Spies – he uses a mobile phone, for Christ’s sake. Whilst this seems eminently sensible given his specific circumstances and is in keeping with his general demeanor, it is a shame, and I feel that his task would be somewhat simplified by a bagpipe flamethrower.
On the scale of cinematic spydom, running from Moonraker and Chuck to Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy, Mr. The Night Manager teeters on the edge of believability, before it has sex with something or punches it in the face and makes you forget the question. It shouldn’t always be credible, but it feels like it might be. If that’s enough for you, check it out on BBC One on Sundays at 9pm GMT or on AMC from 19th April.