Sunday 18 March 2018

Television: Le Carré series is worth your while spying on

Cool: Tom Hiddleston comes over all 007 in The Night Manager
Cool: Tom Hiddleston comes over all 007 in The Night Manager

John Boland

When preparing to make Jackie Brown, which was based on Elmore Leonard's novel Rum Punch, Quentin Tarantino told the author he was changing the name of the main character from that of Jackie Burke and that he was also making her black rather than white. "My book, your movie," was Leonard's accommodating reply.

John Le Carré seems to have much the same philosophy, stoically noting in the Guardian last weekend that "any author who goes into a script conference seeing himself as the guard dog of his novel is wasting his time" and that "a novel that takes a dozen hours of patient reading is to be transformed into a film that takes a hundred minutes of impatient viewing".

And, in the same piece, he declared himself pleased with BBC1's much-heralded version of The Night Manager, which began this week, even though David Farr's adaptation has moved the locale from Central America in the 1990s to Cairo's Arab Spring in 2011 and has turned one of the main characters from a man into a woman.

Certainly on the evidence of the opening episode (the first of six), he has reason to be pleased - both with the sleekly paced storyline, courtesy of Farr and director Susanne Bier, and by the performers inhabiting the main roles.

Mind you, there was perhaps a bit too much of James Bond about the insouciance with which hotel manager Jonathan Pine strolled down a riot-filled Cairo street in the opening moments, but he was played so winningly by Tom Hiddleston (who's actually being rumoured as a future Bond), that the viewer willingly overcame any scepticism. Indeed, Hiddleston has a touch of the younger Ralph Fiennes about him, which is no bad thing.

As his evil arms-dealing nemesis Roper ("the worst man in the world"), Hugh Laurie had the harder task of banishing our indelible image of him as Blackadder's idiot foil or even as the irascible House, but he convincingly oozed sinister bonhomie - not least in a scene where he commented on Pine's decision not to stub out a cigarette on his approach. His "I like that" was full of nonchalant menace.

Olivia Colman played the MI6 operative who took it on herself to recruit Pine in her bid to nail Roper, while Tom Hollander had fun in this first instalment as Roper's camp henchman, and overall the series looks set to satisfy our Sunday-night hankering for drama.

In fact, from tomorrow night onwards you can have something of a Sunday-night-drama binge, with RTÉ2 screening the first episode of Icelandic crime thriller Trapped, which is already available on RTÉ Player and which BBC4 has been showing in two-hour dollops on Saturday nights.

So far, this mystery story about a dismembered corpse discovered in the waters of a blizzard-hit Icelandic town has been excellent, with vividly-realised characters and a setting that, even from the comfort of your centrally-heated living room, will have your teeth chattering.

You won't recognise any of the performers, apart from the grieving father from the first series of The Killing (and he's much less likeable here), but they're all very good and their unfamiliarity actually adds to the illusion of watching real people in fraught circumstances.

The General Election's over, so thank God it'll be a few years before we have to endure any more leaders' debates. Tuesday night's Prime Time final slanging match (RTÉ1) was so tedious that you wished a plague on all their houses, while the previous night's debate on health was no more edifying.

This occurred in The Big Picture: Ireland's Health Service and was preceded by a film which chronicled the ongoing crisis in hospital emergency departments and the scandal of waiting lists. It had all been said before, but the individual cases on which reporter Eithne O'Brien focused were shocking and the statistics numbing.

Then it was the turn of five politicians to offer their tuppence-worth, all of them assuring presenter Claire Byrne that they had the answer to our health service ills. Yeah, right.

Meanwhile, over on RTÉ2 at the same time, people in the street were telling Des Bishop what they thought of the various political parties.

Fianna Fáil were "crap" and "wankers", Fine Gael were "morons", Sinn Féin were "thugs" and "dickheads", while Labour were "gutless".

This chimed with the attitude of the comedian himself, who in Des Bishop's Election poured scorn on all of them. Filmed in front of a studio audience, this amounted to little more than a soapbox rant about everything from developers and gangland crime to abortion and climate change.

There were a few passably amusing soundbites ("One of the things Gerry Adams and I have in common is that we're both shit at maths"; "Floods aren't helping anything other than Theresa Mannion's career"), but mostly it had the feel of one of those Eddie Hobbs televised tirades from a few years back, if not as pointed in its insights.

Anyway, no more soapboxes until 2020, or whenever, for which much thanks.

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