Game of Thrones – season six

April 27, 2016 by  
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Jon Snow's bloody end in Game of Thrones

All together now:

Jon Snow’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave.
Jon Snow’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave.
Jon Snow’s body lies
… er, well, not quite in the grave.

In point of fact, Jon Snow’s body lies frozen in the snow. And so opens the latest season of the sword and sandals, fantasy and intrigue, unashamedly gratuitous shag-fest that is Game of Thrones.

Season five and its conclusion was an absolute doozy and fans of the show have been on tenterhooks for the past God knows how many months in anticipation of the next instalment and closure on the respective fates of Daenerys Targaryen, the Lannisters, the Starks and, of course, the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch himself, Jon Snow, who sadly fell victim to dastardly betrayal and bloody murder in the end of series cliffhanger.

Snow, played by Kit Harington, is an immensely popular character and in spite of an unambiguous death, many fans just can’t seem to accept that he is no more.

red woman

Is there any hope of a return? His trusted lieutenants drag his body into a strongpoint at Castle Black and wait their fate at the hands of Snow’s slayers. With them is the enigmatic Red Woman, Melisandre; a scheming man-eater who holds a secret that delivered the episode’s one jaw-dropping moment – and it is a revelation that once again shows that you cannot take the characters or plot lines within GoT at face value. Without giving too much away, #magic, #sorcery, #ShesaWitchBurnHer, maybe there is hope for Snow after all. Who knows?

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) was last seen alone on a mountainside having just escaped an assassination attempt by those gold-masked killjoys, the Sons of the Harpy. From here she is carried away by a horde of Dothraki bloodriders and after a colourful assortment of threats ranging from decapitation to anal rape, she is presented to the Khal for her fate to be decided.

jaime-cersei-lannister

For some of the other major characters of the series the future looks equally uncertain, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) is destitute having lost her eyes to the faceless man, Sansa Stark (along with Theon Greyjoy – minus his wedding tackle) has narrowly escaped death by freezing + hound savaging + the swords of Ramsay Bolton’s men. High fallen nobles Jaime and Cersei Lannister (played Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Lena Headey) are reunited and take their sibling relationship to a whole other level of weirdness.

“It’s probably [Cersei’s] most interesting season,’ Headey revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. ‘She really has nothing to lose and she has everything to gain from a horrible position she finds herself in.’

Having endured the Walk of Shame from King’s Landing at the hands of the Faith Militant, Cersei is plotting her next move – and when her brother ‘the King Slayer’ turns up, things get touch unconventional.

‘Her relationship with Jaime is at an all-time weird level,’ Headey explains before describing the sixth season as ‘juicy, and it’s so f**king dark.’

All in all, it was a good introduction to the new season and a taster of some intriguing plot lines – which goes to show that production company PRs do sometimes tell the truth. However as for lauding this as the best ever Game of Thrones, I think I’ll wait and make my own judgement on that one.

Countryfile: The Shakespeare Special

April 25, 2016 by  
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Countryfile Shakespeare

Countryfile’s Shakespeare special was good, if not that special. You might wonder what direction a countryside TV show about the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death would go in. I did.

It starts quite slowly with an inaccessible place named ‘Shakespeare’s cave’. Presenter Matt Brown admits it may have been hard for Shakespeare to even reach the cave in his slipper clad feet. That’s what happens in this show, at points it feels as if some of the links are tenuous. This criticism is not to say it lacked substance. Judi Dench lends gravitas as she recalls her own experiences of Shakespeare and recites his prose. The woman is amazing and the chemistry between her and John Craven is entertaining. There is also Shakespearean biographer Stanley Wells, who many think of as the leading authority on Shakespeare, talking about the Bard’s life.

We learn that the Forest of Arden, which is said to have inspired As You Like It, is now known as Birmingham. At least there still remains a tree that is ‘probably’ 1,000 years old and ‘maybe’ Shakespeare sat beneath it. Ale features heavily, the staple drink of most people back then. In fact a working man was officially allowed 8 pints a day, even toddlers drank ale, as it was safer than water. Wool is another topic that gets dissected. Protected by the crown, it was the ‘Aberdeen oil’ of its day. It is amazing to think of a time when farming was so profitable. This section is also one of the funniest when farmer Adam Henson herds sheep through the centre of Stratford only for them to bolt when they see open space.

The final part was fascinating. It was the building of the Minack theatre in Cornwall. Built into the cliffs by a visionary local Rowena Cade it still remains a place for Shakespeare’s The Tempest to be acted out today.

For regular Countryfile fans this edition was an amiable wander around Shakespeare’s life. To another channel hopper I’m not sure they would have been gripped enough to hang around as sometimes the links to Shakespeare felt a stretch.  This is despite there being some very interesting things to learn and that’s why those that love it will continue to.

The Countryfile Shakespeare Special is now available on the iPlayer.

Line of Duty: Episodes 4 & 5

April 22, 2016 by  
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Arnott and Hastings

Isn’t BBC iPlayer a wonderful thing. I missed Line of Duty last week and caught up with it just in time for last night’s engrossing fifth episode. So there’s a lot to catch up on in this double header review.

From the execution-style shooting of a petty criminal by a bullying firearms officer, a trail has been laid to the doors of high-ranking police officers, well-known celebrities, respected politicians and other people in positions of authority that higher powers do not want exposed. Does this storyline sound at all familiar?

Of all the previous seasons of Line of Duty, this is the most difficult to watch. The exploration of the systemic neglect of duty and corruption that suppressed the abuse of vulnerable young people in state care and the subsequent collusion and cover-up continues to be painstakingly unravelled.

It is a case of art imitating life and though the knowledge of abuse is there for all to see, the evidential support is not and to make matters worse the AC12 officers find access to information blocked, redacted from files or worse still, purposely removed and destroyed.

Keeley Hawes

Disgraced officer Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes) is now free from prison and categorically maintains her innocence – and is single-mindedly in pursuit of those who put her behind bars for 19 months. But who is her target?

Well, she certainly has DS Arnott (Martin Compston) in her sights and plays a trump card against him during a bureaucratic reconciliation meeting. She knows too well, how exposed an officer is when his/her integrity is called into question and Arnott’s forced admission of perjury in front Supt Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) and legal counsel for AC12 Gill Bigelow (Polly Walker) places him right where she wants him.

Denton is a very cool customer; she has had her conviction quashed and is in ruthless pursuit of her own ends, and will trample all who obstruct her path. She was fitted up for a reason in the last series and her knowledge of the corrupt activities of former and serving officers means she could hold the key the case and the exposure of the handlers of ‘the Caddy’.

“The people who actually did the crime that I was imprisoned for, they’re still out there,” she rages at Hastings. “If you held one iota of doubt about the conviction, no officer would do more to right that wrong.”

Cottan- Craig Parkinson

Indeed, but Hastings suspicions are misdirected and after more manoeuvring by the Caddy (Dot Cottan, played by Craig Parkinson) it is Arnott who is suspended from duty and in the frame as the inside man perverting the course of justice at the behest of an organised criminal network. What is clear is that Cottan is the footsoldier; the man on the ground doing the dirty work. Those pulling the strings are much more influential and extend their reach as far as Bigelow.

With both Denton and Arnott out in the cold and the Caddy busily extinguishing all avenues of further inquiry, it appears that the secrets of the past shall remain hidden. But Denton’s desperate need to be fully cleared and reappointed as an officer leads her to make a fatal error as she climbs into Cottan’s car and attempts to negotiate a trade; the list of names of those implicated in the child sex abuse ring for a pardon. However, she fails to measure just how desperate Cottan has become and though she seems to hold all the cards she is unable to reason with the bullet shot from his gun.

Line of Duty concludes next Thursday at 9pm on BBC2.

Chefs vs Science: The Ultimate Kitchen Challenge

April 21, 2016 by  
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Chefs vs Science

Chefs vs Science: The Ultimate Kitchen Challenge is a BBC Four 90-minute film that approaches cooking from two different but equally fascinating perspectives: as an art and as a science. Michelin-star chef Marcus Wareing faces off materialist scientist Professor Mark Miodownik in the ultimate cookery challenge which involves a selection of the most well-known and treasured British dishes: the tomato soup, the medium-rare steak with mashed potatoes and the chocolate fondant.

Along this cooking journey, Mark Miodownik tries to unearth the rudimentary principles of taste and flavour. What makes flavour what it is? How do we perceive taste and how can we differentiate between different flavours? These are only some of the questions to which Miodownik seeks answers. Through an experimental approach to the constitutive ingredients of taste, Miodownik links flavour with the cognitive process that takes place in the brain as we experience flavour with all our senses. A different colour perceived through sight may mislead the taste buds, different sound qualities influence the intensity of chocolate flavour and the smell emitted through different shapes of glasses can alter the taste of champagne. The renowned chef Marcus Wareing is also called to experience the interaction between science and cooking. To his own disbelief and surprise, Wareing frequently attests to the scientific core of taste-savouring and flavour-enriching.

As far as the ambitious menu is concerned, the cookery competition starts with a go at the smooth and filling tomato soup. Miodownik attempts to separate the tomato pulp from its juice in order to recreate Wareing’s perfectly-seasoned and rich-flavoured tomato soup. Moving from the entrée to the main course, chef and scientist aim for a tender, nicely cooked and pink-coloured rib-eye steak. Butter, herbs and seasoning go toe-to-toe with chemistry, water bath and liquid nitrogen. As for the accompanying side of mashed potatoes, a similar technique is deployed in order to give a smooth texture and rich potato flavour to the dish. Miodownik describes in detail the process, explaining any obscure jargon that may put off those less science-savvy. The visuals further illustrate the chemical reactions involved in cooking, often blurring the line between science and art. The kitchen becomes a laboratory where cooking textbooks are out the window and chefs-scientists rely on their experience and instincts.

When it comes to dessert, Miodownik opts for a less radical and more conventional cooking method so as to perfect the foamy sponge and gooey centre of the chocolate fondant: here comes the microwave oven. Utterly amazed and a tad dumbfounded, a worried Wareing watches Miodownik resort to ready-made cake mix in order to create the third and perhaps more challenging dish of the menu. When all is said and done and the heat has worn off, Wareing is asked to taste the fondant and evaluate Miodownik’s techniques…

Chefs vs Science: The Ultimate Kitchen Challenge provides an exciting outlook on cooking, frequently probing the question of whether taste can surpass all prior process of the raw materials. To sieve or to snip? To sear or to seal? To see or to perceive? That is the… cookestion.

Chefs vs Science is available on BBC iPlayer until Friday 22 April at 11.30pm.

Jim Carter: Lonnie Donegan and Me

April 18, 2016 by  
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Lonnie Donegan 1

Lonnie Donegan, the most influential musician you may not know. Called the ‘founding father of British pop’ by the Guardian, it’s strange to think he’s most recognisable now for the song, ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’.

This one–off documentary for ITV sees lifelong fan Jim Carter, best known as Downton’s butler Carson, chart Lonnie’s life. Born in poverty stricken Glasgow in 1931 he rose through the jazz clubs of post war Britain to become a huge success in the 50s. His talent? Skiffle. A word that sounds as if it were a fight and a performance all at once. Encyclopaedia Britannica defines skiffle as a: “style of music played on rudimentary instruments”. It was a new type of music that stepped away from tradition, it was exciting, fast paced and accessible. Back in the 50s anyone could form their own skiffle band with whatever was in the kitchen. One of Lonnie’s old band mates shows Jim how to make a bass instrument with string, a tea chest and a broom handle. Lonnie was a pop star and then he faded away into cabaret, replaced by rock and roll and The Beatles.

Celebrities abound in the show. Paul McCartney, Ringo Star and Van Morrison all talk with Jim about the influence Lonnie had on their lives. It saved them, observes Ringo Star, from: “a life in the factories”. Then later it is Van who rescues Lonnie, from near obscurity. The presence of these well-known faces does fell as if it were a kind of belated dues to the man. There was a poignancy in their appearances to speak about him. Jim also talks about what it meant to be a fan of Lonnie’s. Imelda Staunton, Jim’s wife, even shares about what she thought about Lonnie’s music; not much apparently.

Reminders that this was a different era crop up throughout the documentary. His first wife recalls sleeping with a timer so she could wake at 3am to give him his meal when he returned from a show. I wonder how many women would do that now? Then the revelation that their divorce, because of his cheating, negatively affected his public persona is an insight into how conservative views were then.

There was an energy and enthusiasm to Lonnie’s music that is unmistakable. It felt exciting to hear about it. It’s a shame he has been so forgotten. Overall the show is quietly observed. Yes there were lots of clips of music and dancing but the pace is gentle. This was a window into a man’s life. An ordinary man, who, at the time, had an extraordinary life. Jim Carter did him justice.

Camping

April 13, 2016 by  
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Camping 1

All kinds of awkward. The definition of last night’s premiere of Camping on Sky Atlantic. Brought to us by the creator of Nighty Night Julia Davis, her latest offering is squirm-in-your-seat funny. The premise is a camping holiday in Devon for a group of middle aged couples. They are celebrating one of their birthdays. With glamping ever more popular this looks as if it could be a lovely few days in the countryside. We know it won’t be.

The first two episodes were screened back to back and there are a lot of recognisable faces. Steve Pemberton stars as the browbeaten husband who the trip is in honour of and Vicki Pepperdine as his dictator-style wife. Julia Davis also features as the sex-mad new girlfriend of the couple’s old friend. Jonathan Cake plays a reformed alcoholic who is fussed over by his insipid partner played by Elizabeth Berrington. By the first night tensions are already high as things start to go awry. Bickering, flapping and lots of snogging characterise the start, and that’s just the adults. The younger one’s fare no better, There’s Archie, a boy forced to wear a plastic bubble on his head by his mother to protect him and Jonathan’s teenage son, whose entrance is marked by disturbing noises from the bathroom.

While the holiday kicks off there are occasional glimpses of the creepy landowner doing strange things such as hanging out gigantic stained underwear while the group eat breakfast.

Elements of these characters are so realistic that it can make uncomfortably viewing. Vicki’s character as Archie’s over protective, routinely homophobic mother is one. It is amusing though, there are laugh out loud moments and I would watch this again. It left me turning my head away at points which classifies it as a certain type of humour. Agonising.

Camping continues as double-bills on Sky Atlantic, on Tuesday nights at 22.00.

Line of Duty: Episode 3

April 11, 2016 by  
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Cottan and Fleming in Line of Duty

An intriguing but flawed third episode took some of the heat out of last Thursday’s Line of Duty. Writer Jed Mercurio committed the cardinal sin of the suspense / thriller genre by revealing the bad guy during the third act of this six-parter.

Regular viewers of the series will know that DS “Dot” Cottan is a wrong ‘un of the top order, and secretly most appreciate his snake-like ability to get out of the tightest, dirtiest spots and come out smelling of roses. He had the makings of a criminal kingpin, the Machiavellian Dudley Smith-type conniver, so popular in James Elroy’s LA novels. Alas, he seems to have shot his bolt!

DS Cotton in Line of Duty - Craig Parkinson

Unfortunately, for us, Mercurio bases his characters in the real world and takes the more mundane and probably more accurate route to illustrate how a compromised officer can be bent to corruption. Cottan (Craig Parkinson), the shifty-eyed, evidence destroying, double-tongued rogue officer on the anti-corruption squad gets an episode to expand on his weaknesses; we come to learn he has the obligatory drink problem, the spiralling gambling habit and his wicked past actions now have him in the pocket of organised criminals. His fall from grace might work out well in subsequent episodes – after all, someone must be pulling his strings. Could it be a senior within AC12 or another police department? Could we see the reappearance of characters from past series? Could Lindsay Denton, the disgraced former Detective Inspector who got a spell in chokey at the end of the last series, have a say in proceedings?

The Denton subplot is an interesting sideline and I have no idea where it is going. She showed herself to be an absolute mega bitch in the last series and used inconsistencies in the subsequent court case against her to force an acquittal on charges of complicity in the murders of three fellow officers. She has skeletons in her cupboard, but is she conspiring with the same people that handle “The Caddy”? On the other hand, is she an unwitting participant and scapegoat of corruption at a higher level?

Supt Ted Hastings - Line of Duty

Overall, this episode was a bit of a soap opera, we got an insight into the personal life of Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) who, beyond the veneer of professional stability and supposedly rock solid marriage, is facing up to a very different domestic reality. On the upside, he is pursued by Gill Bigelow (played by Polly Walker), on the downside he is returning to an empty house and ready meals.

Also seeking a bit of attention in the least likely place was DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) who ended up back at Dot’s flat for wine and Chilli. She may have made herself comfortable on the couch but surely, this is a coupling from which no good can come.

Line of Duty airs Thursdays 9pm on BBC1. Episodes are available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after initial broadcast.

British Army Girls

April 8, 2016 by  
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British Army Girls 1

Watching British Army Girls last night I expected swearing and high-tempo action. What I didn’t expect were tears.

This Channel 4 series follows female recruits as they start their basic training at Army Training Centre (ATC) Pirbright. With women making up less than 10% of the British Army, it seems amazing that a new batch of faces arrives every two weeks.

The women undergo a rigorous training regime and are obliged to stay on site for the first 28 days. You can see how this intensive period forms strong bonds between them. Room inspections, weapons handling, drill and lots of press ups seem the order of the day. As they march in the wrong direction or collapse under a heavy bag, elements of the Carry On… films come to mind. Then suddenly you are reminded of the seriousness of it all. Bayonet practice for instance.  Live firing while running around in the woods is one thing, but attacking a ‘body’ right in front of you with a bayonet on a rifle seems quite another.

Back to the tears. Perhaps it was the way it was edited. As one of the Corporals who lead them mentioned, that, under stress the male pride kicks in and prevents men from crying but women were “freer at sharing there emotion’s”. I don’t think this was said in a derogatory way but then what message does it send out about women in the army? This also comes at a time when the government is reviewing whether women should be on the front line.

That said, the importance of remaining cool under pressure is evident. One cadet who embodies this is Costerello, a calm, 22 year old who is passionate about the army and evidently popular in her group. Another recruit Strain, the oldest there at 32, cannot seem to hold back her sarcasm when shouted at. Perhaps that’s to do with age, in the way it can make you less pliable? Her trajectory over the episode is interesting to follow.

The group’s leader, Captain Rose Hamilton, is reserved. A quieter voice compared to the mouthy Corporals. There is a notable distance between her and the women. She is encouraging, but also maintains a strict formality. At only 28 she had the steely togetherness of someone much older. I would be interested to learn more about her. The mouthy Corporals added to the humour with their swearing and jokes.

This was not an explosive start to the series, there was a lot of activity but it was not immediately gripping. It may lack enough stand-out characters to carry it through. However, it was interesting to observe a world far away from civilian life. Perhaps that’s where the success will be. At the end of the episode, which is their week four, 38 of the 47 recruits remain. Will we?

British Army Girls goes out on Thursday nights at 21.00 on Channel 4.

Line of Duty

April 1, 2016 by  
Filed under Reviews

Line of Duty - Daniel Mays as Sgt Waldron

Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty is one of the best dramas produced by the BBC in recent years and its welcome third season has proven to be as cold and complex as its predecessors.

Last week’s opener focused on the complicity, and coercion into a lie, of a team of police firearms officers after their bullying sergeant, Danny Waldron (Daniel Mays), executes a suspect on a suburban street in broad daylight.

As the officers of AC12, the police anti corruption unit, probe the circumstances of the killing, they meet with a wall of silence from the firearms team and political pressure from administrators to avoid tarnishing the reputation of the force.

Even the undercover posting of Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) to Waldron’s squad fails to shed any light on the killing or crack the contrived alibis of PCs Kennedy (Will Mellor), Bains (Arsher Ali) and Brickord (Leanne Best). With no option other than to return the officers to active service, suspicion and enmity within the team leads to another deadly confrontation – and the troubled, divisive character of Waldron meets his bloody end on the bedroom floor of a squat during a raid.

DS Cotton in Line of Duty - Craig Parkinson

The stand out quality of Line of Duty has been its ability to present multi-layered storylines and a blurring of the boundaries between good and bad. A recurring theme within previous seasons has been the ambiguity around the integrity of the officers of the anti-corruption unit – we know who watches the police, but who watches the watcher? Cottan (Craig Parkinson), especially, falls into this category. While outwardly supportive of Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) and the work of AC12, Cottan dances to the beat of another’s drum and his brass neck and chameleon-like ability to blend into the background makes his screen presence toe-curlingly uncomfortable. He’s a wrong ‘un and with bodies stacking up it remains to be seen whether he will be able to snake his way out of the morass.

Martin Compston as DS Arnott in Line of Duty

As DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) picks away at the scab of Waldron’s background, he discovers the headless corpse of the shooting victim’s brother and evidence of child sex abuse suffered by the officer as a child. However, his path forward is obscured when Cottan pockets and destroys a key piece of evidence containing the names of others involved.

The case is further complicated when Kennedy (Mellor) is found hanged in a disused industrial unit and the two surviving members of the team play the safest card in the deck and pin the blame on the dead guy for the death of Waldron.

Lindsay Denton, the uber manipulator of season two, played with aplomb by Keeley Hawes, returns in a courtroom subplot that threatens to undermine Arnott’s position within AC12. Seeking to exploit technicalities in the case against her, the former detective uses sex as her tool of choice to call into question the credibility of Arnott’s damaging evidence.

This intriguing pot boiler is bubbling along nicely and the introduction of a shady puppet master, pulling the strings of the reluctant Bains, adds further confusion to proceedings.

Line of Duty airs Thursdays 9pm on BBC1. Episodes are available on BBC iPlayer for 28 days after initial broadcast.

The Night Manager – episode 6

March 29, 2016 by  
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Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) in The Night Manager

The Night Manager reached its thrilling denouement on Sunday night as the iniquitous business empire of illegal arms trader Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) came tumbling down.

And yet, the episode started off so well for him. Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) is carpeted in front of a committee and has her operation shut down in the fallout of the failed arms swoop – much to the glee of the odious spook Geoffrey Dromgoole and his lackey Jonathan Aris. It appears all the obstacles in the path of Trade Pass and its supply of arms to despots around the world have been dismantled.

After eluding the attentions of the joint US/UK intelligence operation to intercept smuggled munitions into Syria, Roper shows what a repulsive character he really is with some callously misogynistic and manipulative scenes, which ultimately hasten his demise. Caroline Langbourne (Natasha Little), the humiliated wife of the au pair-bedding, Lord Sandy Langbourne (Alistair Petrie), is summoned to Cairo by Roper under threat of losing her children unless she becomes agrees to spy on his spouse, Ged (Elizabeth Debicki).

Mr Kouyami played by Bijan Dineshmand

Roper knows he has a wrong’un in his organisation and Pine and Ged are the ones under the spotlight. However, there is a multi-million-pound deal to be concluded and as with all things in Tricky Dicky’s world – money talks loudest. So, while the plastic smile of the consummate salesman is on show for his middle eastern client Mr Kouyami (Bijan Daneshmand), the conniving, ruthless schemer plots the end of his wife and her lover.

Last week’s instalment had the feeling of the quiet before the storm and was used as a scene setter for this thoroughly engrossing nail-biter of a conclusion. Pine (Tom Hiddleston) faces a race against time to save his own skin and that of Ged – who Roper admits he “isn’t feeling particularly sentimental towards at the moment” after gifting her to Frisky to indulge his sadistic fixation with water boarding.

Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) in The Night Manager

Unbeknown to Roper, Pine has managed to get word to his handler (Burr) that the Trade Pass entourage is in Cairo on business and has plans of his own to ensure an uncomfortable surprise for the unscrupulous weapons trafficker. Using old contacts in the Egyptian capital, Pine plots the sabotage of the shipment and the financial ruin of Roper.

Yet, even in defeat, having been detained by Burr, Steadman (David Harewood) and Singhal (Adeel Akhtar), Roper remains convinced that his money and Whitehall contacts will save him and “he’ll see them all again in a few days”. Pity then, that his disdain and insults for Kouyami come home to roost when he finds his client has equally powerful friends in Egyptian authority and that he will never enjoy the security of the inside of a prison cell as he is driven away to his fate.

The Night Manager is available on iPlayer until 26 April 2016.

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