Arms and espionage drama The Night Manager scooped three Golden Globes last night to go with two Emmys and the Grand Prize at the Seoul International Drama Awards last year. The team behind the John Le Carré adaptation talk to Stewart Clarke.
When TBI asked about The Night Manager’s prospects ahead of the Emmys last year, executive producer Stephen Garrett professed to being “very British”, and not holding out too much hope. Correctly, as it turned out, he identified The People v. O.J. Simpson as a very strong rival – “a huge show that resonated with everyone”, he said of the FX show. The American series went on to win the outstanding limited series accolade, while Game of Thrones scooped another bagful of gongs.
As the co-founder of Spooks prodco Kudos, Garrett is no stranger to the awards circuit. “It’s like being a child,” he says. “It’s thrilling and tense, but you have to slightly numb yourself, because getting a nomination and not winning can be really depressing. You have to just be pleased you are nominated because on the whole it is the best stories that get nominations. But who actually wins can be a bit of a lottery.”
In the event, The Night Manager did bag a double-Emmy haul. The six-part drama, about an ex-army officer turned hotel manager who gets sucked into a world of espionage and arms dealing, also went on to win the Grand Prize at the Seoul International Drama Awards. The last night, lead Tom Hiddleston won best performance by an actor in a miniseries or TV movie, while Olivia Coleman and Hugh Laurie both won supporting cast awards.
Back at the Emmys, Victor Reyes had scooped the best miniseries score in the craft Emmys, and Susanne Bier took the best directing for a miniseries accolade. Bier is no stranger to winning gongs, having scooped an Oscar for Danish movie In a Better World. The Night Manager was her first TV work, and ahead of launch earlier this year she told TBI what she wanted to bring to the project. “I wanted people to be seduced by [Laurie’s villain] Richard Roper in the same way that Hiddleston’s protagonist] Jonathan is seduced by him,” she said. “The main difference with this and a feature was it was six hours, not two, but I shot it in the same way as a film, not as individual episodes.”
The BBC and AMC drama was also a first project for Garrett’s new company, Character Seven, and the first TV work for The Ink Factory, the prodco run by Le Carré’s sons, Stephen and Simon Cornwell.
“It was a challenge because this was an adaptation of something from a prominent, living author who was the father of the two people who are your producing partners,” Garrett says. “As a producer you have to be faithful to the spirit of the book, but it would have fallen apart if we were too faithful, as what worked on the page was not what would work as a piece of TV.”
The producers changed the setting, sex of one of the main characters, and the ending, with writing on the denouement continuing right up to the culmination of filming.
The Night Manager was a remarkably successful TV debut for the Ink Factory, with the company having previously focused on features (it now has one unified TV and film development department).
“It was our first tentative step into TV and longer-form narrative,” Stephen Cornwell says. “When we started thinking about it, limited or miniseries were toxic. That has changed in last couple of years, and The Night Manager opened our eyes to the potential of TV.”
The series averaged 6.3 million viewers in a Sunday night slot on BBC One in the UK, but fared less well in its Tuesday night slot on AMC in the US. The opener garnered less than a million viewers in the States, somewhat mitigated by a decent +3 performance, factoring in catch-up and timeshifted viewing.
The series was widely compared to the James Bond films. While being mentioned in the same breath as one the most popular movie franchises of all time is hardly a cross to bear, it’s not wholly accurate, according to Stephen Cornwell.
“Tom Hiddleston’s Pine is a man at a point of intersection, who becomes drawn into a secretive world,” he says. “It has some of the scope and lavishness of Bond, but a more emotional and human entrypoint. It has some of the same tropes: there’s a villain [played by Hugh Laurie (right)] who is frightening but inhabits a world you want to hang out in. Roper is very engaging, and I think that part is very akin to Bond stories.”
Laurie’s casting as the wealthy arms dealer Roper came after the House star had tried to option The Night Manager rights in 1993. He was outbid by Paramount, which set up a film adaptation with Robert Towne (Mission: Impossible) and Sidney Pollack (Out of Africa). As with a subsequent version planned by Brad Pitt’s Plan B, it didn’t come to fruition, in all likelihood because the novel needed more than a two-hour movie, which it was afforded on television.
The chances of more of the show? Slim, but not impossible. “There are lots of avenues you could go down,” says Simon Cornwell. “Obviously the show has been very successful, and it would be weird if we didn’t have those conversations. There’s a lot of interest, but also a lot of Le Carré books not adapted yet.”
Next up for The Night Manager producer Stephen Garrett and Ink Factory is a TV adaptation of one of John Le Carré’s best-known books, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. They have teamed with the TV arm of Paramount, which is also the studio behind the 1965 Richard Burton movie adaptation. Paramount Worldwide Television Licensing & Distribution, which is better known for selling features, will handle international sales.
“We have thought about it since the inception of The Ink Factory,” says co-CEO Stephen Cornwell. “In terms of Le Carré’s work, and interest in the Cold War, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is the gold standard. There is a sense of relevance and prescience in the way that the divisions of the Cold War are returning. It has taken a few years to unpick the rights, but has been on the horizon for a while.”
The 1963 book is better known than The Night Manger, which was published 30 years later. Cornwell says: “One interesting challenge on our minds is that the book is so iconic – it shifted and invented much of the language of the spy novel, and created the realistic spy story – so how do you reinvent something that has been that much imitated?”
For Le Carré, the adaptation has greater meaning. “He’s very excited,” Cornwell says. “It’s poignant because, as he nears end of career, this was his first global book.”