Up till now, these two movies were pretty much the highpoints of my in-and-out relationship with the trade.
I had misgivings when I learned that The Night Manager was to become a six-hour movie for television, updated for our times.
I suppose that in an odd way I was shocked, not least because twenty years ago I had given up the movie rights for dead.
The star director Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, Out of Africa, etc) had fallen in love with my novel and persuaded the studio to buy it for him. Robert Towne of Chinatown fame was signed to write the screenplay and, in some mysterious fashion I still can’t get a hold of, failed to complete it. Large sums of money changed hands, leaving the movie rights stranded in Hollywood’s vaults; and me – since by common consent the novel was eminently filmable – in a state of grumpy mourning.
The television part of it was fine by me. The long form has often suited my work better than feature, and television drama these days, whether from America or Scandinavia or, more rarely, from Britain, is scaling new heights.
But a novel I had written nearly a quarter of a century ago reset in present time? With none of Pine’s trip to northern Quebec in the story? None of Central America? My beloved Colombian drugs barons replaced by Middle Eastern warlords? No zillion-dollar luxury yacht for Richard Roper? A new ending to the story, yet to be discussed? What did that mean?
Oh, and by the way, if it’s all right by you, David, we’ll be turning your leading investigator into a woman. She won’t be your Mr Burr, she’ll be our Mrs Burr, shrewd, gutsy, dour, sparkling and heavily pregnant throughout the movie, which is fun because in life, as in the movie, she’ll be pregnant too.
To all of which, a lesser being such as myself might reasonably have responded: why not write your own bloody novel? With all those changes, what’s left of mine?
And the answer, surprisingly, is: a great deal is left, more than I dared hope.
Take Mrs Burr. All right, in the novel she was a man; a rough-cut, ponderous, no-nonsense fellow, but a man for all that, and a throwback to my own distant days in the secret world when female agent-runners were a rarity; or if they weren’t, I never met one. But did we really want this in 2015? One white male middle-aged man pitched against another white middle-aged man and using a third, younger, white middle-aged man as his weapon of choice?
Then there was the agony of Richard Roper’s yacht. I loved that yacht. In the novel, we spend a lot of time on it. It’s Roper’s headquarters. It keeps him offshore. It makes a wicked Flying Dutchman of him. I’d been a guest on a very rich man’s yacht, and I’d watched him run the world from it.
But luxury yachts, it seems, cost the earth to hire, and in movies – unless you’re going to sink them – they quickly become claustrophobic. Far better then, for the movie, to give Roper a billionaire’s island in the sun with a palatial Gatsby-style villa at its centre and a sprinkling of cottages for his underlings and protectors.