The Berlin Film Festival took a break from the big-screen action for the launch of The Night Manager, a six-part television adaptation of John le Carré’s 1993 novel of the same name.
The TV version of the spy thriller updates the action to the present day, and in doing so it moves the focus of the story away from Colombian drug barons, as in the novel, to arms dealers in the Middle East.
It stars Tom Hiddleston (best known as villainous Loki in Marvel’s Thor and Avengers movies) as Jonathan Pine, a former soldier, a veteran of the Iraq war, who is working as a porter at the Nefertiti Hotel in Cairo, when the 2011 uprising begins.
When he hears about a cache of arms and chemical weapons that are being sold, he reports it to British intelligence – and soon finds himself embroiled in the world of arms dealer, Richard Roper, played by former House star, Hugh Laurie.
The drama is directed by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier, who won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011 for her movie In a Better World. Of the decision to update the plot and shift the geographical focus to Egypt, she says: “It’s one of John Le Carré’s most timeless novels and it’s incredibly relevant today – the whole dealing in arms and weapon sales is so relevant.”
Yet the Arab Spring and the uprising in Cairo’s Tahrir Square had little to do with arms sales. So I ask Bier, does the adaptation risk misrepresenting the events and situation?
“Well it doesn’t really deal with the Arab Spring itself,” says Bier. “It sets it in a geographic and political and concrete situation. It very purposely does not deal with the specifics of the current situation.
“You can say in a way, at least for me, the series is more about making a moral statement then making a political statement. It’s about our responsibility, in terms of our political dealings – but not so much with the concrete dealings of the Arab Spring.”
Having made the decision to start the story in Cairo, the cast and crew made every effort was to get the uprising scenes absolutely right, with Morocco doubling as Egypt for the shoot.
“I felt very passionately that we should represent the Arab Spring riots in Cairo as closely as we could, because it’s a real thing that happened,” says Hiddleston. “It’s still something that people feel very emotionally passionate about, connected to.”
So the Arab Spring becomes the new springboard for the original novel’s spy adventure – which, in the best traditions of the genre, visits fancy locations and has impressive set pieces.
However, despite this familiarity, it also feels very new and fresh.
Bier made some very smart decisions during the adaptation process, which have the effect of making this world feel packed with contemporary characters.
One of them is a female intelligence officer called Burr, played by played by Olivia Coleman (Peep Show, Broadchurch, The Lobster).
“The character of Burr, in the novel, it’s a man,” says Bier. “When I came in, the producers asked me if it was a good decision to update it and I said, ‘Yes’ – because, there is a limit to how much you can listen to white men, who have been to public schools, talking the same way and still feel that it’s relevant.”
What is not lost among all the changes is the sense that we are seeing a fiction based on the anger clearly displayed in Le Carré’s original text.
“I get angry about people who abuse their responsibilities and are allowed to get away with things, for which they are accountable,” says Hiddleston.
“I’ve seen evidence of people, who have been in positions of real power, who abuse that power and the cost to innocent people of that abuse is profound and lasting – that’s what makes me angry. So I share Le Carré’s anger, with Roper’s cynicism.”
The Night Manager begins at 10pm tonight on the AMC channel on OSN