Articles & Reviews: Noble House

People Magazine: Picks & Pans

Noble House

February 1988

Grade A

I started playing the tapes for 8-hour mini, and suddenly the women couldn't help themselves. They'd hear that neo-Cary Grant accent, rush to my office and swoon at the TV.  Their jaws would drop.  Their knees would shake, rattle and roll. As if they were Juliets speaking Romeo's name, they'd sigh and say, "Pierce Brosnan".  Noble House is his show. It is his coming-out party as an official debonair sex symbol.  It is absolute proof that he should have been James Bond —a role that would have combined the humor he displayed in Remington Steele with all the grace, charm, cleverness, good looks and deft acting he displays in Noble House, a stir fried Dallas based on James (Shogun) Clavell's novel.

As Ian Dunross, the modern-day Taipan (that's Chinese for chief executive autocrat) of an ancient Hong Kong corporation, Brosnan plays puppeteer over a score of storylines. He fights back from financial ruin, then fends off hostile— and surprisingly exciting—takeover attempts by his evil rival, John (Raiders ol the Lost Ark) Rhys-Davies.  He gets into business with Ben (Making Mt. Right) Masters an unethical American tycoon. He gets into bed with Master’s assistant Deborah (Lace II) Raffin.  He inherits a mysterious, century-old obligation to grant any favor to the holders of certain half coin. He gets wrapped up in kidnapping, murder, spy stories, drug smuggling, fires, landslides and international intrigue. Brosnan controls every scene, calmly, coolly. He is the best of the show. There is more good acting from Rhys-Davies, the gorgeous Julia Nickson as a TV reporter, Gordon (Upstairs Downstairs) Jackson as a cop and Denholm Elliott in a cameo as Brosnan's predecessor.  And Hong Kong co-stars too; it is a magnificent sight, delightfully photographed in the streets, the junk-filled harbor, the stock exchange and the penthouses of the city. Okay, so a few of the bit parts are awfully played. And yes, there is a bit too much talk about old tales. But ignore its pimples. Noble House is great. It is the salvation of the miniseries.  For unlike Windmills of the Gods and every other mini in recent (and unhappy) memory, Noble House tells a story too big and too majestic for a mere two-hour movie. That's why it’s a miniseries. And this is what every miniseries should be.


Chicago Tribune: TV Week

February 1988

By: Kenneth R Clarke


But it is Pierce Brosnan known to television viewers as Remington Steele, a lightweight come to life figment of Stephanie Zimbalist's imagination, who packs the biggest punch.
As Ian Dunross the new Tai-Pan of Straun Enterprises, which is the corporate name of Noble House, Brosnan is nitroglycerine in a bottle - cool and controled - but very perilous if not handled with care.  He plays the role with an aura that harkens back to Hollywood's star system Clark Gable and Robert Taylor were elemental forces beyond mere talent. 

Clavell who sold the screen rights to "Tai Pan"  years ago when money wasn't as plentiful as it is now was most pleased with Brosnan.

"I'd like to see him in costume pictures - something like "The Scarlet Pimpernel" or "Tai Pan", if I could get the rights back to make it into a mini-series," he said.   "He'd be great as Dick Straun.  He's got that [ ] arrogance rather like Sean Connery has.  He's very dignified but there's a brooding there.  It's the Irish, that Celtic quality."

N.Y. Times: Executive Role for Clavell in TV Series

By Stephen Farber

February 17, 1988

On ''Noble House,'' the eight-hour mini-series that begins Sunday on NBC, James Clavell is not credited merely as the author of the original novel. He also acted as executive producer of the mini-series, and he was closely involved at every stage of production. ''Noble House,'' a tale of intrigue in the business community of contemporary Hong Kong, stars Pierce Brosnan, Deborah Raffin, John Rhys-Davies, Khigh Dhiegh and Denholm Elliott.

Mr. Clavell's dual role as author and executive producer is virtually unparalleled in television history, but then not many best-selling novelists have the extensive experience in the entertainment business that Mr. Clavell has had. Before achieving the literary success that encouraged the networks to fight over rights to his novels (''Shogun'' was a ratings smash in 1981, and his latest best seller, ''Whirlwind,'' is currently up for grabs), Mr. Clavell wrote the screenplays for the 1958 version of ''The Fly'' and ''The Great Escape,'' among others, and he wrote and directed ''To Sir With Love.''

Mr. Clavell even distributed films for three years in his native England. ''I actually sold films,'' Mr. Clavell said in a recent interview. ''So I know about exhibition and distribution, and things like miscellaneous costs and advertising that most novelists are unaware of. That's why the Hollywood executives don't really like me very much from time to time.''

All of this experience has made Mr. Clavell a tough negotiator when he gets around to selling his books to eager producers. His dissatisfaction with the movie version of ''Tai-Pan,'' which brought him a hefty sum but no creative control over the finished product, left him convinced of the need to oversee the adaptations of his books. ''Dino De Laurentiis had the right to make whatever he wanted to make,'' Mr. Clavell said of the producer of ''Tai-Pan.'' ''But I get rotten letters that say, 'I love your books, but I hated the film and I'm not seeing another film that you've made.' '' 'Everybody Knew My Work'

That is quite a change from audience reactions to the television version of ''Shogun'' seven years ago. ''For me, that was like the difference between B.C. and A.D.,'' Mr. Clavell said. ''All of a sudden everybody knew my work. We sold almost three million books in a six-week period during and just after the broadcast of 'Shogun.' ''

When he sold the rights to ''Noble House,'' Mr. Clavell insisted that the network hire Eric Bercovici as the writer and producer. Mr. Bercovici had played the same role on ''Shogun,'' and Mr. Clavell was pleased with the results. ''I could do a script myself,'' Mr. Clavell said, ''but I wouldn't want to. Number one, I'd be writing against myself, which is psychologically a bad thing to do. Secondly, I had already spent five years of absolute concentration on 'Noble House.' When you're dropping characters and changing things around, it's far better for another writer to do it. Besides, Eric is a much better screenwriter than I am. He knows the TV medium; he understands exactly wnen the act breaks have to come.''

Mr. Bercovici recalled that when he first met with Mr. Clavell about the possibility of working together on ''Shogun,'' the author did not look pleased with the approach that the screenwriter suggested. ''But we met again the next day,'' Mr. Bercovici recalled, ''and James came in with a paperback copy of the novel, from which he'd torn out the pages that I had suggested cutting. And he said to me, 'My God, it works.' Since then we've had a wonderful collaboration.''

In the case of ''Noble House,'' Mr. Clavell worked closely with Mr. Bercovici in blocking out the script and deciding what should be retained from the novel and what should be eliminated. One of the first decisions they reached was that recreating Hong Kong in 1963 (the period when Mr. Clavell's novel was set) would be prohibitively expensive. ''Nineteen-sixty-three Hong Kong is rubble somewhere,'' Mr. Bercovici noted. In updating the story to contemporary times, Mr. Bercovici was able to address the issue of the impending return of Hong Kong to Communist China, which had not been dealt with in the novel. Rushes on Video Cassette

Once the script had been completed to Mr. Clavell's satisfaction, the author also participated in the production process. He suggested a number of the English and Chinese actors who appear in the mini-series. He also took the company to Hong Kong and helped select locations. While the mini-series was being filmed, Mr. Clavell was in Europe, but rushes were sent to him on video cassette. Later he was consulted on the editing. How were disagreements resolved? ''We worked out a system on 'Shogun,' '' Mr. Clavell replied. ''Eric, the director and I each had one vote, and a vote of two out of three carried the day. I know it sounds very boring, but there were no major controversies.''

Perhaps one reason for the harmonious working relationships is that Mr. Clavell maintains a certain detachment from the adaptations of his work. ''As a writer-producer-director,'' he observed, ''I've adapted other people's work, and you have to be terribly professional about it. Besides, whatever sort of film is made, the book still exists. Nobody can touch that. Although I was very pleased with the television version of 'Shogun,' it is not the book at all. The book is a Japanese book, and the Englishman in it is basically incidental, a device to tell the history of Japan. The TV version is a love story about Richard Chamberlain and this beautiful Japanese girl.''

Mr. Clavell's interest in the Orient may have its roots in the three years he spent in a Japanese prison camp in Singapore during World War II. He first visited Hong Kong in 1963 and lived there for a year. Since then he has been back almost every year. He remains fascinated by the avid capitalism of the city.

''If you write about Hong Kong,'' Mr. Clavell said, ''you write about business and money. That's the whole purpose of the city. Insider trading is quite legal there, and the society is a much more free and easy buccaneering, capitalistic society. The strong survive and the weak perish. I prefer it to Western societies, because in Hong Kong everything is out in the open. They obey the law, because the law is fairly loose. They don't have these very stringent rules which everybody breaks hypocritically.''

Next Mr. Clavell will attempt to create a television film of ''Whirlwind,'' and he and Mr. Bercovici also hope to make a six-hour mini-series based on Mr. Clavell's first novel, ''King Rat,'' which was drawn on his wartime experiences in the Changi prison camp. That novel was made into a feature film in 1966, but the television version would include material that had to be left out of the movie as well as a number of scenes with the prisoners' wives that were cut from the novel at the suggestion of Mr. Clavell's publisher. ''We said to ABC that it's 'King Rat' crossed with 'Hollywood Wives,' '' Mr. Clavell said.

Associated Press: Time for Brosnan

February 18, 1988

LOS ANGELES - Pierce Brosnan. who'd never been to Asia before, started last year with a ministries in Hong Kong and ended It with a movie in India.

In between, he returned to his native Ireland to do an independent film with some friends.

The miniseries. "Noble House/* starts its eight hour, four-part run on NBC this Sunday. It's based on the best-selling book by James Clavell.

The movie in India Is "The Deceivers," from the book by John Masters. The Irish movie is "Taffin."

In "Noble House," Brosnan stars as Ian Dunross. the tai-pan. or boat, of Hong Kong's leading trading house. It also stars Deborah Raffin, Ben Masters, John Houseman, John Rhys-Davies and Julia Nickson (.an Nelvm directed it on location in Hong Kong for 12 weeks and at the Dino De Laurentis Studio in North Carolina for another 12 weeks.

"Hong Kong was my first step into the Orient." said Brosnan "It's a fascinating place, sort of a condensed version of New York City. My schedule was such that I had time to go around and see the place. I bought an automatic camera and did some photography.

"What was around me was so exciting to look at and so different ... Having started life as a commercial artist, I've always looked at things as though to paint them. As the story opens, Dunross has just taken over the family's trading empire.

"He's fairly ruthless in his dealings with people," said Brosnan. "He has a remoteness to him. An isolated charm. I've never played a character like him before. The job came at a very opportune moment, after the whole incident of James Bond and Remington Steele."'

After NBC canceled "Remington Steele" a few seasons hack. Brosnan was asked to become the next James Bond. Then, because of publicity over Bond. NBC put "Remington Steele" back on the air and Brosnan was dropped from the Bond picture.

Did he see the offer of the role in "Noble House" as a peace offering?

"I never thought of it as a peace offering." he said. "I saw it as a way of putting as much distance between myself and 'Remington Steele' as possible. I'd always enjoyed doing the series, but I knew coming back for six more episodes was hogwash."