Film Review: Noble House
The world of high finance is the theme for this 1980s NBC mini-series based on the 1981 novel of the same name by James Clavell. The four-part series takes place in Hong Kong over the course of a single week and tells the story of Ian Dunross, a business tycoon who has just been elevated to the status of "Tai Pan," a title that means "absolute authority."
His trading company, Struan's, known in Hong Kong financial circles as "The Noble House," is struggling financially and is therefore prey to a hostile takeover by archrival Quillan Gornt, while American financier Lincoln Bartlett plays both ends against the middle. The story's sub-plots also include the Hong Kong underworld, Chinese communists, the KGB, and MI6; not to mention a high-stakes kidnapping and several steamy sexual liaisons.
The plot and players are loosely based on several real-life companies and characters. Struan's is a fictitious representation of Asian trading company Jardine Matheson, and Rothwell-Gornt is based on Butterfield and Swire (now Swire Pacific). The Ian Dunross character is thought to be a composite of Sir Hugh David MacEwen Barton and Sir Michael Herries, while Quillan Gornt represents John Kidston Swire and William Charles Goddard Knowles. And although the Noble House mini-series is regarded as a fair representation of the novel, the timeline was updated to take place in the 1980s, and therefore the historical context and American-Asian political influences were significantly altered.
In the grand style of the classic mini-series, Noble House has all the requisite elements: an exotic setting, archetypal characters, a labyrinthine plot, and plenty of romance. Pierce Brosnan stars as the cool and unflinching Ian Dunross, with his buttoned-down Saville Row savoir faire. Jonathan Rhys-Davies is deliciously wicked as Quillan Gornt, the greedy and manipulative Hong Kong puppet master. Deborah Raffin has her eye fixed firmly on the prize as the ice queen Casey Tcholok. Ben Masters is Linc Bartlett, the unctuous interloper and silver-tongued ladies' man. Julia Nickson shines as the alluring but unattainable Orlanda Ramos. And Khigh Dhiegh brings a sinister shadow to the character of Four Finger Wu. And despite its conspicuous 1980s watermark and its six-hour run time, Noble House is as salacious and satisfying as the day it debuted.