“The Night Manager” proves that John le Carré is as adaptable and as appealing as ever, with Tom Hiddleston’s former Brit soldier Pine getting sucked into the inner world of arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) and having trouble resisting the dubious morality he’s been fighting.
It’s a clever cat-and-mouse spy game, directed by Susanne Bier with a lushness not normally associated with le Carré. Production designer Tom Burton found striking locations in Mallorca (Spain), Marrakesh, (Morocco), Zermatt (Switzerland) and Hartland (Devon), and cinematographer Michael Snyman captured a a tantalizing beauty together with the inevitable chaos.
“My brief was to get as much contrast as possible, going from Switzerland, which is cold and icy, to Cairo, which is hot and dusty, to the Mediterranean, which is crystal clear and blue,” recalled Burton. Egypt was off limits, so he found an appropriate five-star hotel in Marrakesh (Es Saadi), where Hiddleston could open the story as a quiet and unassuming night manager.
“The service company had a good relationship with this hotel and it had the space and great grounds and gave us everything we needed,” added Burton, who took advantage of a less-trafficked Saudi palace to shoot as well.
The designers decorated the hotel suite to be more Egyptian, building textures in corridors, and created a casino in the restaurant. They bulldozed and flattened a valley outside of Marrakesh as the setting for a refugee camp.
Turkey was out of the question for Roper’s villa, so they lucked into the best possible location in Mallorca: La Fortaleza, a 17th-century fort surrounded by 25,000 square feet of gardens, which happens to be Spain’s most expensive private property. Burton never believed they could actually get it, and was stunned when the location scouts actually secured it.
Meanwhile, Hartland, where Pine sets up his own cover headquarters, is a far cry from the typical opulent English countryside you see in movies. “We wanted something elemental and rough and textured — a contrast to the exotic locales,” Burton continued. “We found this garage and reset it as a house in the middle of nowhere, which is what it was.”
Cinematographer Snyman, meanwhile, liked the way Pine and Roper occupy opposite ends of the spectrum. “You’ve got Roper who cares very little for life and on the flip side you’ve got Pine who’s fought in the war and has all these morals. You don’t quite know what side he’s working for or if Pine’s been turned or not.”
Snyman developed a close rapport with Hiddleston, who wound up playing night manager for real during off hours as part of his prep: “He’d give them their keys and it was amazing,” said the DP, who shot with the Red Dragon using older lenses. “We also shot all the stuff of him running and training after we wrapped.”
Snyman also liked shooting on location and using long takes in keeping with the director’s method. “It’s one thing for a beautiful location but another to drive a story through it,” he suggested. “But I really enjoyed Devon and the setting up of the Pine and Roper relationship . I thought it was the perfect match between photography, dialog and actors coming together.”