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Hiddleston, Laurie Fuel AMC's Adaptation Of Le Carre's 'Night Manager'


The first TV adaptation of a John le Carre spy novel in more than 20 years premieres tonight on AMC. It's called "The Night Manager." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it's a slow-burn series fueled by two magnetic lead actors.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Tom Hiddleston plays Jonathan Pine like James Bond without a license to kill. He doesn't shoot bad guys, and the one fistfight he gets into with multiple people, he loses badly. Instead, Pine is the most charming, intelligent, seductive spy on television. He starts out humbly as an ex-soldier who works as the night manager for a luxury hotel in Cairo. Then, everything changes. He helps the girlfriend of a criminal hide evidence that proves he's buying weapons.


AURE ATIKA: (As Sophie Alekan) Have you always been the night manager?

TOM HIDDLESTON: (As Jonathan Pine) It's my profession, yes.

ATIKA: (As Sophie Alekan) You chose it?

HIDDLESTON: (As Jonathan Pine) I think it chose me.

ATIKA: (As Sophie Alekan) It's a shame. You look fine by daylight.

DEGGANS: She meets a tragic fate, and he becomes a spy. Pine rats out wealthy British arms dealer Richard Roper to British intelligence. The officer, Angela Burr, is played with bold authority by Olivia Colman.


OLIVIA COLMAN: (As Angela Burr) Why does Jonathan Pine, respected hotelier, risk his career by snitching on his guests?

HIDDLESTON: (As Jonathan Pine) Listen, if there's a man selling a private arsenal to an Egyptian crook, and he's English, and you're English, and those weapons could cause a lot of pain to a lot of people, then you just do it. Anyone would do it.

COLMAN: (As Angela Burr) Plenty wouldn't.

DEGGANS: Here's where this shows becomes a little far-fetched. Pine abandons his night manager job and goes undercover. He then infiltrates the inner circle of Roper, who's played with oily menace by former "House" star Hugh Laurie.


HUGH LAURIE: (As Richard Roper) Everyone assumes that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. My father was an Oxfordshire auctioneer. He taught me the price of everything. But the drive to create all this, that comes from me and me alone. Where does it come from in you?

HIDDLESTON: (As Jonathan Pine) I'm not sure I have what you describe.

DEGGANS: That modesty, paired with Hiddleston's dazzling smile, makes a slow-moving story more compelling. Eventually, we learn more about Roper's nefarious business, and why he put his new friend Pine in the center. Because this is based on a le Carre book, "The Night Manager" is a spy story that's more psychology and than gun play.

Violence happens offscreen, with viewers mostly shown the bloody aftermath. When asked why she's fixated on Roper, intelligence officer Burr tells a story about sorting through the carnage of a sarin gas attack that killed dozens of children in a soccer stadium.


COLMAN: (As Angela Burr) He started selling sarin after that event. He saw what I saw. He saw 112 children and 58 adults, and he thought business. That's the Richard Roper I know.

DEGGANS: The real attraction here is in watching Roper manipulate Pine while Pine seduces everyone, including the arms dealer's pretty blonde wife. As Roper's perfect life begins to unravel, his wife eventually asks the question on everyone's lips.


ELIZABETH DEBICKI: (As Jed Marshall) Who are you? You come into our lives, disrupt our balance. Everyone's attracted to you. Who are you? Tell me.

HIDDLESTON: (As Jonathan Pine) I can't.

DEGGANS: Pine won't 'fess up. And of course, they sleep together. Unlikely turns like that make "The Night Manager" a tough sell for some. And the story's slow pace will leave fans of Bond-style action films yearning for a good fistfight or a car chase.

Instead of fireworks, this six-part series tells a deliberate, sophisticated story of cat and mouse between a seducer and the seduced. And it's a measure of both Hiddleston and Laurie's talents that sometimes viewers can't tell who is seducing whom. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.