Hugh Laurie’s an odd fish, isn’t he? He’s perfectly believable as a buffoonish dilettante from the 1920s, even as a maverick American doc with a limp, but ask him to be an upper-class English arms dealer, and I just can’t quite see it.
He’s a fine actor, it’s nothing to do with that, it’s just I can’t quite square Laurie – who seems to be a thoroughly nice person, by the way – with being in any way sinister.
Yet here he is, in The Night Manager (BBC1, Sundays, 9pm), being villainous as Richard Roper, “the worst man in the world”.
He’s selling arms to corrupt regimes, ordering beatings – even the assassination of the titular night manager’s paramour.
This particular hotel employee, Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), however, is a former soldier, hardened on the battlefields of Iraq, and who is seemingly unafraid to walk the streets of Cairo amid the tumult of the Arab Spring.
It’s a fantastic introduction to Pine, strolling nonchalantly out of the chaos to the affluent calm of Cairo’s Nefertiti hotel, where the mistress of an arms dealer reveals Roper’s secret arms deals and is soon in Pine’s bed.
This Egpytian idyll can’t last, however, and the events in Cairo spark something in Pine, which puts Roper firmly in his sights.
Maybe we haven’t seen enough of Laurie yet, to really pass judgement, and he has a certain smooth charm. Tom Hollander is camply menacing as his No.2, while Hiddleston is controlled, coiled, but you wouldn’t bet against him exploding some time soon.
The production flits between Egypt, London and the super-rich mountain playgrounds of Switzerland, and this first episode set us up for a terrific, sinuous, Bond-esque tale.
Adapted from a John Le Carre novel, it has none of the nicotine-stained opacity of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or The Russia House. It makes a thrilling change for a Sunday night.
Less thrilling, but grimly gripping nonetheless, was The Prosecutors (BBC4, Wednesdays, 9pm), which followed Crown Prosecution Service lawyers as they pursue miscreants through the courts. It’s a compelling, illuminating, heartbreaking look at an unwieldy bureaucracy, with people working within it as best they can.