‘The Night Manager’: John le Carré’s Sons Bring Father’s Work Back to Television

The Night Manager trailer
Courtesy of AMC

Six-part spy thriller “The Night Manager,” which stars Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, has been a ratings and critical success on the U.K.’s BBC, and on April 19 it premieres Stateside on AMC. The show, which is based on John le Carré’s novel, is produced by The Ink Factory, run by the author’s sons Stephen and Simon Cornwell. Variety spoke to them.

The Ink Factory was founded in 2010, and has offices in Santa Monica, California, where Stephen Cornwell is based, and London, where you’ll find Simon Cornwell. The company’s first production was Anton Corbijn’s 2014 movie “A Most Wanted Man,” a Le Carré adaptation starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. Forthcoming films include another project based on a Le Carré book, “Our Kind of Traitor,” starring Damian Lewis and Ewan McGregor, and “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” directed by Ang Lee and based on the novel by Ben Fountain. “The Night Manager” is The Ink Factory’s first TV project.

The show, which had a budget of around £3 million ($4.27 million) an episode, reflects the company’s ambitions in the television arena. “The specific things that reflect that ambition are the scale and scope of the production, but also its creative ambition,” Simon Cornwell says. “It’s very much an authored piece. It was effectively put together as a six-hour film with an Oscar-winning director (Susanne Bier), extraordinary cast and very strong performances.”

Simon Cornwell also flags up the international nature of the production. As well as being a U.K.-U.S. co-production between the BBC and AMC, its locations ranged from Morocco to London, Switzerland, the West of England and the Mediterranean island of Majorca.

The brothers’ ambitions chimed with a “new creative energy” in television, Simon Cornwell says, so when the rights to “The Night Manager” reverted to them it seemed like “exactly the right time to bring Le Carré back to the long form after a couple of decades or more away.” This coincided with a greater willingness among major broadcasters to back bigger-budget drama projects. “The BBC in particular are very ready to embrace a fully international production where they have a voice at the table, but at the same time they are contributing less than half of the budget so it requires an openness,” Simon Cornwell says.

Audiences are being presented with an ever greater range of drama on television, but they tend to be drawn to “strong stories that are well told, with great cast and those are often the higher-budget, larger-scale productions,” he says.

Stephen Cornwell adds: “There has been a very fascinating and very exciting evolution of audience appetites in terms of longer-form types of storytelling. Streaming has altered habits somewhat, but broadcasters in general have spoken to a renaissance of that (form of storytelling), and suddenly the longer-form narrative has an audience that really wants to engage and wants to be taken on a journey in a very immersive way, and I think great books speak to that potential, and they become a magnet for talent.”

He adds that it is “mission over” for the way television drama has been used in the past, and the differences between drama on TV, the internet and cinema are disappearing as far as the audience is concerned. “The way we approached ‘The Night Manager’ is as a deeply authored cinematic experience, and I think the dividing line between what is cinema and what is television is becoming a redundant one, and the question is, in a sense, what experiential form is best suited to the narrative and how do people want to enter into that process? And I think the fusion of the two and the dividing line between the two is something we will see evolving over the next few years, and is very exciting, and how people perceive it, how they engage, how they watch are all changing in fascinating ways, and they have enormous creative possibilities, and a project like ‘The Night Manager’ to speaks to that.”

He notes that the show made its debut at a film festival (Berlin). “I think it speaks exactly to that ambition, and transitionary experience, and that fusion of audience, and that incredible future potential.”

As with its movies, The Ink Factory’s TV projects will be produced on both sides of the Atlantic. “We are a global company with a global outlook, and that is reflected in where our projects come from,” Simon Cornwell says.

Although most of their project have been based on Le Carré books, with The Ink Factory involved in every stage of their development and production, the Cornwell brothers are also open to working on projects developed elsewhere. “We want to be a place where people bring projects at every stage of their evolution – whether it is writers with great ideas or great material, producers who want to work with us, directors…,” Stephen Cornwell says. “Storytelling is our essence. We feel we have a profound understanding of the creative journey and want to help people bring their ideas to the screen. Where we step in is something we are very open about and is at the core of what we are trying to achieve.”

Simon Cornwell, Stephen Garrett, Stephen Cornwell

The Ink Factory’s Simon Cornwell (left) and Stephen Cornwell (right), with Stephen Garrett, who served as an executive producer on ‘The Night Manager’ with them. Courtesy of Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock