Daniel J. Harris on The Night Manager…
Sunday night sees the final instalment of the six-part BBC serial, The Night Manager, hit our screens. Starring Hollywood’s very own Tom Hiddleston in a return to British TV the adaption of John Le Carre’s novel costs an estimated £3 million plus per episode! Where on earth did that money go?
As with anything big budget production looking to make a splash – casting is key! Tom Hiddleston has had a great run in Hollywood over the last 5 years since winning the BAFTA Rising Star Award in 2011. With his roles as Loki in the various Thor or Avengers films and other notable outings he brings an audience and no doubt commands a high fee. There’s nothing wrong with that – he’s worked hard to build his reputation and to get his fee to a good number. It’s great to see him starring in a BBC drama. Hugh Laurie too. He’s built himself a great new career in the states as Dr House and he’s recognisable to most American viewers – as well as, being known this side of the pond for his work in shows like Blackadder. But, apart from that the rest of the cast are TV names or unknowns really. It’s not exactly an all-star cast – so unless Tom and Hugh have blown the budget on talent – all the money hasn’t been spent there.
The Night Manager is a known entity. It’s a John Le Carre novel and no doubt the IP involved means that John’s people get a good sum of money. The Night Manager is an interesting story, nice setting and interesting characters to some degree, but the story is the weakest part of the series in my opinion – which is a surprise considering it was written by David Farr, one of the writer’s on Spooks.
There are huge plot holes and in places it’s fairly contrived. Hiddleston’s character Pine/Birch quickly falls in love with a woman he’s just met in Cairo, then she’s killed, he travels half way across the world to get away from it and guess who turns up at his new hotel? Yes – the same group of men he believes to be responsible for her death. Then he’s drafted into the world of spying and sent to Dorset – where he switches gear very quickly and becomes a bad boy. And that’s just episode one. The story flits around and shifts gear pretty quickly in places, but doesn’t feel that unique. There’s a hundred other stories where an ex-military man tries to get away from the horrors of war only to be dragged back in and sent undercover to save the day. What is special about this? Uh… not that much really.
The MI6 gang are all very shady, but pretty one-dimensional – then Neil Morrissey turns up, says nothing for three episodes before having a whopping five scenes for him to show his talents, then fade back into obscurity. I can’t help but feel his character has been fairly pointless on the whole. Every time he popped up I just thought – where have you been hiding for the last ten years and have your Men Behaving Badly cheques run dry? Overall the story and script haven’t been brilliant in my opinion.
What has definitely cost serious money is episode five! Planes, bombs, flamethrowers, huge explosions, lots of guns and tracer bullets in the dark. You’ve got the extra actors as soldiers, their outfits, guns, firearms professionals on set, the building of the explosives, the team to manage them, the health and safety and the set up – the man power to manage the explosives alone isn’t cheap. And, in a matter of seconds it’s all over – flash, bang, wallop and there’s a Hollywood-esque scene of explosions. It was nice to see but didn’t really serve the story. We knew throughout the first four episodes that these guys were dealing arms and seeing a few big booms didn’t convince me anymore. I didn’t think they were lying and so didn’t need to be reassured this far in that they are indeed bad people, doing bad things. The best way to burn money on a film and get minimum screen time return for your cash – blow stuff up!
Then there’s the house in Majorca. An amazing house on the end of the island, up on a hill overlooking the sea, built-in an old fort. It IS the most expensive house on Majorca and owned by a politician. The BBC has rented it out at a whopping cost. Lovely house. Great views. Wise way to spend budget? Maybe not. The producer’s wanted Hugh Laurie’s character, Roper, to look rich and have clout – check. But in terms of return on spend? Does it offer more value than any one of the other luxury houses on the island that could’ve been rented cheaper? The jury is out on that one.
£3 million per episode is a whopping budget for the BBC and in fairness the series has had amazing ratings – but at a time when the BBC are concerned over costs and are talking about axing jobs is £3 million an episode the right thing to do? Co-production with American TV channel AMC and it starring both Loki and Dr. House mean that it’s worked not just in the UK, but the states also. It was a ‘risk’, but looks set to return on the £18 million plus spent. However – could it have been produced more efficiently and been more cost-effective? Could the money have been spent on filling the holes in the script? Who knows! It seems to have been a big success and congratulations to the team behind it. Episode six is on our screens this Sunday and I’ll be interested to see how it finishes. But, if it was my cash being spent – I’m not sure Id feel value for money. The Night Manager feels like a classic case of style over substance for me – and that’s disappointing.
Daniel J. Harris – Focus Shift Films