The Night Manager (BBC1, Sunday) announced its intentions immediately, when the opening credits lovingly combined weapons and luxury items. ‘Blimey,’ we were clearly intended to think, ‘it’s a bit like James Bond.’ True, the main character works — at this stage, anyway — in the hotel trade rather than as a secret agent. Yet, when it comes to dress sense, being irresistible to the ladies and alternating between looking suave and enigmatically purposeful, Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) has little to learn from the great man himself.
Pine was first seen heading to work in 2011 through an uprising in Cairo where dozens of extras were demanding the overthrow of President Mubarak. But once he’d arrived at the lavish Nefertiti hotel, it wasn’t long before a female guest sashayed towards him and gave the words, ‘Make me a coffee would you, Mr Pine,’ an unusual degree of erotic charge.
In fact, though, there was more to Sophie Alekan than just a slightly hammy sexpot. As the mistress (naturally) of an Egyptian playboy millionaire, she had written evidence that an entrepreneur called Richard Roper — aka ‘the worst man in the world’ — was planning to sell her boyfriend’s family enough weapons to crush the uprising. Luckily, Pine had a friend at the British embassy and so got the evidence circulated to every intelligence organisation in London. But then, proving that The Night Manager is indeed based on a book by John le Carré, and not by Ian Fleming, Roper was tipped off about the leak by a high-ranking mole. As a result, the deal was off — and poor Sophie had flirted her last…
Meanwhile, another infallible sign of the programme’s le Carré origins is its obvious fury at the cynicism of realpolitik. Pine’s embassy friend, for example, explained that the British government couldn’t protect Sophie, because her boyfriend’s family had invested a billion dollars in the UK. Back in London, Angela Burr (Olivia Colman), head of the somewhat mysterious International Enforcement Agency, was rebuked by the Foreign Office for not realising that sometimes Britain’s interests are best served by letting bad guys sell weapons to each other.
And with that, we cut to four years later, with Pine working in a Swiss hotel that allowed the show’s sumptuous cinematography to treat itself to the Alps. The hotel was also posh enough to provide a quick alpine break for none other than Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie, so far sticking with quietly sinister rather than flat-out evil). Roper’s party of guests included his girlfriend Jed, whose flirtiness with Pine was, if anything, less subtle than Sophie’s — after stripping to her underwear in front of him, she then did that extending-her-leg-vertically-out-of-the-bath thing, with the door firmly open.
Even so, Pine had other things on his mind. Having made contact with Burr while in Cairo, he invited her to Switzerland and gave her the details of Roper’s party. And now, it seems, their alliance is about to deepen.
Through all of this, Sunday’s episode was as immaculately turned out as Pine himself, its tie-pin gleaming and its every hair in place. At times it perhaps felt rather self-consciously classy — but classy, nevertheless, it undoubtedly was. I do, however, have a couple of reservations.
The first is that The Night Manager is so respectful of its chosen genre as to occasionally verge on parody. (‘Are you like this with all your women?’ Sophie asked Pine at one point.) The other, more surprisingly — even heretically — is Olivia Colman, who doesn’t feel remotely like a top spy. Instead, she appears to have dropped in from another series entirely: the sort where a plucky, determinedly ordinary woman goes around being all sensible and down-to-earth in, say, a small factory in Manchester. Certainly, the least convincing line of the episode came when Burr heard a man’s name — and said that she knew him because ‘he was my leg man in Kiev’. Coming from Carrie in Homeland, this would have passed without much notice. Coming from Burr, it sounded almost delusional.
But before I go, a far smaller mention than it deserves for Fresh Meat (Monday, Channel 4), Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong’s comedy drama about a group of Manchester students, now back for its fourth and final series. Dennis Potter once said that you should regard your younger self with both tenderness and contempt, and this is a trick that Fresh Meat brilliantly pulls off with its own young characters, as, safe in the bosom of university, they try on various selves to see how well they fit. Like Bain and Armstrong’s Peep Show, it’s also packed with great jokes.
On Monday, with finals approaching, the students were increasingly mournful that their university days are coming to an end — and many Fresh Meat fans, I suspect, will be feeling the same.