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I’m in two minds about The Night Manager, the BBC’s recent adaptation of John le Carré’s novel.

In its journey from book to screen, some major changes were very smart, such as:

  • Updating it from the early 1990s to the Arab Spring of 2011
  • Switching the arms deals from Colombian drugs cartels to a repressive regime in the Middle East, probably Syria
  • Having the intelligence operative Burr (originally a male character in the book) played by a heavily pregnant Olivia Colman

Yet despite the rave reviews I found the sixth, final episode dissatisfying. I don’t mean the waterboarding torture scene that drew a few complaints, or the minor continuity foul-ups involving murders in swimming pools and wet trousers and so on.

No, I mean the screen version’s new and (SPOILER ALERT!) uber-happy ending. All far too glib and neat and tidy and unbelievable. Or am I missing something?

Yet you couldn’t fault the show for its amazing look, from the lush locations to the opening titles. I have a thing about opening sequences, and this particular one by Elastic (probably best known for their opening of Game of Thrones) and director Patrick Clair certainly ticked all the Bond boxes.

After a while all the comparisons between the Bond franchise and The Night Manager (from the main music themes to how Tom Hiddleston and even Hugh Laurie could be a contender for the next Bond) do become a bit tiresome, but The Night Manager’s title sequence certainly has all the scale and allure of a good classic Bond movie.

No, hold on a mo. When you actually compare it to, say, Diamonds are Forever or OHMSS, The Night Manager’s opening visuals win hands down. They are infinitely more sophisticated and downright chilling, and there’s not a human figure in sight.

I was mesmerised when I first saw the opening of The Night Manager, as two sets of ideas and images collide and explode: the world of luxury and the world of weaponry; consumption and destruction; wealth and death. It’s beautiful and horrifying and perfectly intertwined. The hardware of war is given the lavish treatment of one of those glossy jewellery ads or perfume commercials.

Hitchcock and Saul Bass

The opening also reminded me of vintage Saul Bass – as in, say, the opening Bass did for Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. You can still see echoes of Bass’s more graphical opening sequences in today’s TV series such as Madmen and Hustle. 

In the very title of North by Northwest, that little middle word “by” stands for all those crisscrossing “crossroads” themes to come in the film, as paths meet and people’s lives cross each other. Bass’s visuals capture these crisscrossing themes superbly…

Bass was a pioneer of “kinetic type”, or type in motion, and for his North by Northwest opening the type moves almost like a railway, or like one of those old-fashioned Arrivals/Departures boards (is there a special name for them?) from airports and rail stations.

But then, about 50 seconds in, the lines begin to echo the window frames of the Manhattan skyscraper where suave playboy adman Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) occasionally works – and at around 1:45 the sequence switches to the hustle and bustle of the (crisscrossing) crowds at street level.

But back to The Night Manager. While everything you see in its title sequence is CG (pay attention at the back: CG just means “made in a computer”), the same can’t always be said about various props specially designed for its six episodes.

Designers Julian Nix and Sarah Bradley were responsible for everything from the paperwork used by the arms dealers to an iris-scanning banking app. Or at least what looks like a working app, as they explain in this video…

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