The Night Manager

certainly got off to a good start last Sunday. Well the opening credits were something - an animated kaleidoscope of champagne glasses and chandeliers morphing into weapons of mass destruction.

Probably the only thing stopping 007's lawyers getting in touch was the absence of nudie silhouettes and Mr Bond at the other end of a gun barrel.

It's a sign that the BBC programme (TV3 Sundays 8.30pm) is a lavish prestige production of a spy series. Or hoping to be seen as such. It certainly has an impressive cast, led by Avengers baddie Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman.


And impressive credentials too, being an adaptation of John Le Carre's 1993 post-Cold War novel.

The book involved Central American drug cartels. This has been updated to involve the Arab Spring; well, as a flashback starting point anyway.

But the tepid first episode felt torn between Le Carre authenticity and complexity, with its feel for the office politics of the British spy bureaucracy and Ian Fleming-esque glamour.

Hiddleston's Jonathon Pine, a concierge at a Cairo hotel, becomes involved with beautiful local Sophie after she suggests that documents addressed to her nasty boyfriend - including a handy invoice listing such items as "Eurofighter" and "mustard gas" - might be passed on to Pine's mate at the British embassy. Especially as the retailer is one Richard Roper (Laurie), a super-rich Brit industrialist and philanthropist.

Having dumped the docs and a load of exposition on Pine, poor Sophie isn't long for this world. Her death leaves Pine feeling guilty - they had slept together - and housekeeping with a dreadful mess to clean up.

Oh, and Pine has the strong suspicion that Roper was involved in her death.

Laurie's Roper didn't figure much in this first outing. Just at the beginning being philanthropic and the end, turning up some years later at a Swiss alps hotel where Pine is now behind the desk.

Meanwhile, back in Whitehall, Colman's Angela Burr, having seen the arms deal docs, now has Roper in her sights.

And so the first of eight instalments - it's six on the less ad-packed BBC - finished after what felt like an episode that barely got past the dust jacket blurb. It got the character introductions out of the way but not much else. Maybe the first episode of the six-part version ends in more dramatic fashion.

But there's another potential problem at the centre of The Night Manager.

It's that the quiet reserve of Hiddleston's Pine, who we're told served in the British military and opted for a quietly nocturnal hotel career, is just turned down far too low. He's coming across like something of a blank rather than a man hiding his troubles behind his crisp good manners.

If future episodes can show there's an actual pulse in the posh titular character, The Night Manager may live up to expectations. Hopefully Colman's backroom intelligence officer can verbally defibrillate him.

And though Roper's true villainy wasn't revealed in the opening episode, the red pants and fur hat he wore arriving at the hotel were something evil. Not only does The Night Manager promise a story of popular uprising-suppressing arms dealing, it has a promising line in exposing international fashion crime.