A shamanic snake charmer, a challenging Mallorcan location that tested the crew to its limits, and breath-taking landscapes on the Spanish island all helped give Susanne Bier’s six-part TV series The Night Manager the sweep of an epic cinematic movie.
Budgeted at $30m and starring Tom Hiddleston, Olivia Colman and Hugh Laurie, the BBC/AMC series is based on John le Carré’s international spy novel of the same name. Screenwriter David Farr’s script features myriad updates and changes, many driven by location.
“We decided early on to relocate the book to the Mediterranean,” says le Carré’s son Simon Cornwell, who produced the series with brother Stephen via their London and Los Angeles-based outfit The Ink Factory. “Essentially, our locations team went out to different countries around the Mediterranean with a brief and a book of reference photos of the kind of locations and things we were thinking of.”
The film-makers visited Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and other parts of Spain before opting for Mallorca and Morocco where the film shot for six weeks in each. Further scenes were also shot in Switzerland, London and Cornwall.
“Spain generally is incredibly film-friendly,” says Cornwell. “And Mallorca has a good production company based there [Palma Pictures]. There’s a lot of support and experience for film-making, and incredible locations all over the island. We shot particularly on the north coast, which is breath-taking but, surprisingly, not seen that much on film.”
When the team landed in Mallorca, Palma Pictures noticed a particular photo in the production’s wish-list portfolio for one of the script’s key buildings: a fortified luxury villa.
“They said, ‘We can’t just find you somewhere like that, we can actually get you into it,’” Cornwell says. “That sealed our location quest there and then,” referring to Sa Fortaleza, a 17th-century fortress — now a private home — on the northerly Bay of Pollenca.
The six-week shoot on the small Spanish island included the visually stunning 15th-century castle. In the island’s western coastal village of Deia, a real-life restaurant carved into a cove rock face, accessed only by narrow stone steps, was a key location.
“I had cold stares from a construction crew looking at me with fear in their eyes because it was an impossible location,” Bier recalls of the tricky restaurant shoot. “You couldn’t take trucks down there, so they were saying, ‘Are you serious, we’re going to bring 150 people to film at a place we can’t get trucks down to?’”
But the beauty of the location fuelled the Anglo-Spanish crew’s determination to overcome the logistical barriers. Equipment was mounted on trollies and lights were carried by hand.
The production qualified for both the UK’s high-end television tax relief and Spain’s film and television incentives on the respective local spends (the Moroccan shoot pre-dated the introduction of the country’s cash rebate in March 2016).
“We had a good core group of international crew who travelled with us from country to country and were joined by local teams,” Cornwell says.
Finding suitable accommodation for the show’s large crew during the Mallorcan shoot proved challenging because of the island’s status as a popular tourist destination. They were eventually scattered in hotels in and around Palma.
A few short steps
There were no such accommodation headaches for the show’s six weeks in Morocco, which stood in for Turkey and Egypt. Cast and crew were based in the Es Saadi Palace Hotel. “It was as fabulous as the [on-screen] Nefertiti Hotel Cairo and we could all stay there,” Cornwell says. “Our walk to work every day consisted of heading down to the lobby.”
The Atlas Mountains stood in for eastern Turkey and the Turkey-Syria border. Shooting in 46°c heat in tents that ended up like ovens — along with the promise of snakes — kept everyone on their toes. The most exotic crew member was the local shaman, employed to deter the serpents. Bier recalls how he would arrive on set in a suit and tie before changing into full shamanic robes to walk around and keep away the snakes.
“We never got to see his work because there were no snakes,” Bier laments. “His presence was both quite frightening and comforting at the same time.”