The first time I recall noticing Tom Hiddleston (Crimson Peak) was as the side-kick in the BBC remake of Wallander. He stood out there, even amidst a great cast. Shortly after, he broke out in the public conscious as Loki in the Marvel Universe over multiple movies. This series should help bridge him to even wider appeal.
This series posits a simple question: What kind of event could set your life in a different direction, and how far would you go down that path? As the title character in this 6-part le Carré spy story, Hiddleston shows all the flare and sex appeal of very pretty Bond. He negotiates a complex path for his character’s transformation from hotelier to spy through the story with little to support it but the subtleties of his acting. For, despite the main question, the drive isn’t in the script, it is in the acting.
As the target of his investigation, Hugh Laurie (Tomorrowland) is fiercely intelligent, full of humor, and capable of true, cold malice. His ability to bring a human aspect to a towering evil makes the story more believable amidst its extraordinary scope. On his team, of note, is Tom Hollander (Mission Impossible 5: Rogue Nation) as his best friend and business partner. The relationship and character are likely to put off some, but there is a great and important dynamic between the two that helps drive the resolution.
There are two women in the mix as well. Elizabeth Debicki (Macbeth) as the current companion of Laurie’s. She feels out of place (by design, I think) throughout the story, but she is far from a simple, pretty plaything. There are depths to her, and cleverness, that broaden her character despite its somewhat cliched placement. Olivia Colman (Broadchurch), on the other hand, is a solid crusader throughout: intelligent, tough, solid, and in charge of her team and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her goals. Colman negotiates a labyrinth of politics and events, remaining both professional and human. Her view of the chase provides a window onto our world in ways that feel real, scary, and that you would like to unsee. Of course, the women have no communication with one another making this fail the Bechdel test, but they are far from inconsequential or weak characters.
There are a plethora of smaller roles that fill in the cast. Familiar faces, all, though not often called out. Adeel Akhtar (Pan), David Harewood (Supergirl), Alistair Petrie (Utopia), Douglas Hodge (Penny Dreadful), Tobias Menzies (Outlander), Neil Morrissey (Line of Duty), and Jonathan Aris (Sherlock) among them.
I have to say, the opening credits for this show are some of the best I’ve ever seen. They set up the ideas of the story in a beautifully hypnotic way and draw you in immediately evoking cold war sensibility, 40s elegance & luxury, and Bond-like danger. You have every sense of what you’re in for, and yet are clear that you probably don’t understand a thing. While I usually zap through or tune out during standard credits once I’ve seen them and know the players, these credits demand your attention every time. (And, it should probably be noted, that there are rumors that Hiddleston may be filling those Bond shoes down the line, so this was a good test of his ability.)
One of the reasons for the success of the series was the consistency of the writing and directing. It was written entirely by Farr (Hanna) and every episode was directed by Bier (After the Wedding). This provided a necessary through-line in approach and feeling that multiple talents would have struggled to maintain. It helped make the series into a 6 hour movie rather than an episodic drama. Unlike other le Carré adaptations such as A Most Wanted Man, this story is more energized despite focusing on the spycraft and long-game that is closer to reality. It is a taut 6 hours worth your time if you have any interest in the genre.