If a great injustice happened to someone you cared about, how far would you go to make it right?
When he tries to do the decent thing, hotel manager Jonathan Pine finds his quietly ordered life turned upside down in this cracking six part adaptation of the John le Carré novel. An encounter with a beautiful woman encourages Pine to take a risk, and he tries to prevent a tyrant acquiring the means to brutally supress a burgeoning revolution. But actions have consequences, and as he pursues the spider at the centre of the web – brilliant, ruthless Richard Roper – Pine is drawn into the ruthless world where international politics meets the illegal arms trade.
Things started well, and kept on going, as episode one gently introduces Pine and Sophie, their coming together and her brutal demise. Then the crash-bang as Roper reappears in Pine’s life, setting them both on a collision course. Those last 20 minutes were astonishing, as Pine and Roper actually meet for the first time, each trying to get a read on the other while hiding who they themselves really are.
The ebb and flow of the story was brilliantly handled, with Pine trying to infiltrate Roper’s inner circle and smuggle out enough intel to bring him down. Roper’s world slowly disintegrates as loyalties are tested and divided, and people are forced to see parts of themselves – and each other – that they had been happy to ignore. It was all fantastically tense, and enjoyably complex. There were sharks and shadows on the outside too, as Burr and Steadman run up against powerful forces in government who are quite determined to ensure that Roper stays exactly as he is.
Bit random, but I really loved the title sequence. Chilly and stylish, with images of weapons transforming into objects of luxury and vice versa: a china tea set became a Gatling gun, and a line of battleships morphs into the bubbles in a glass of champagne. It hints at Ropers lifestyle and profession, but also at his skewed moral viewpoint. The battleships and tea-set can only transform because we’re looking down at them from high above. Nothing’s evil when you’re too far away to see the consequences. Until it all comes crashing down of course…
I also liked how it wasn’t the law or any great act of state that brought Roper down, but a handful of people determined to do the right thing (helped along by Ropers own greed and callousness). Yet he is ultimately punished, not by the system, but by the very people he used to do business with. It’s a pleasingly complex resolution. We’re glad Roper will be punished, but it’s a bit worrying that the law is so powerless against such people. I doubt his captors will be gentle – is that justice? And what if he somehow buys his way out of it? Or someone just as bad simply takes his place? I suppose Pine gets what he set out for – that’ll have to do.
Nothing’s simple in this world. People are conflicted, their motives hidden and confused. Burr wants to make her loyal husband happy, but can’t just sit back with Roper still at large. Roper wants to control his perfectly ordered world, yet he thrives on chaos. Pine wants to avenge the woman he loved, but is he perhaps looking for a purpose in life? ‘I was living half a life when you found me. I have nothing to lose.’
The story constantly draws convincing parallels between the personal and the political. There is truth and simplicity only in moments, time makes liars of us all. Perspective matters, and no one is entirely sure of anything. Why has Burr so much faith in Pine? Would Jed go back to blissful ignorance if she could? On a grander scale, people like Roper can only operate because governments would rather not ask too many questions. And perhaps it’s always been this way. Roper compares himself and Pine to Churchill and Lawrence, drawing out boarders on the back of a napkin.
All the characters were brilliantly realised. Sharp, angry Corky; brilliant, stubborn Burr; bold, crusading Steadman. I found myself really warming to Jed. She swoops in on private helicopter, slender and tall, swaddled in expensive fur. Initially presented as the empty-headed mistress (‘How are you getting on with those magazines, dear?’ sneers Roper), we soon realise she has her secrets too. A terse phone call from home reveals she has left a son behind. She sends money, but it’s been so long since she seen him that he’s stopped asking for her. ‘You’re a dirty whore’, sobs her mother. She obviously enjoys the lifestyle, and even seems to genuinely like Roper, but even in Switzerland she seems listless. The longer we spend with Jed, the more interesting she gets. Her relationship with Pine might have seemed inevitable, but it avoided cliché. And that sad parting after a final night together was just perfect – things had run their course, but they had been through so much together it was a wrench to see it end. Again, no simple solutions here, just surviving another day, a little older and wiser.
But really, this was always about Roper and Pine. Great characters, great performers. I haven’t seen Hugh Laurie since House, and I was delighted to see him do so well here. The way he cracked in the end, screaming in the back of the van, was the closest thing to catharsis in the entire story. And Pine. His victory was fittingly muted, a moment of simple, perfect calm. All terribly English. Fantastic stuff!
What did you think? Were you a bit sad to see Corky go? Were you a bit confused as to where Burghati’s second £300,000,000 went? Have I missed anything out? Let me know!