Noble House (miniseries)
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Noble House is an American action-drama television miniseries that was produced by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, and broadcast by NBC in four segments on February 21–24, 1988. Based on the 1981 novel of the same name by James Clavell, it features a large cast headlined by Pierce Brosnan as business tycoon Ian Dunross and was directed by Gary Nelson. Due to time restrictions, several of the many subplots from the book were removed.
|Based on||Noble House|
by James Clavell
|Written by||Eric Bercovici (screenplay)|
|Directed by||Gary Nelson|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||4|
|Executive producer||James Clavell|
|Production location||Hong Kong|
|Running time||376 minutes|
|Original release||February 21, 1988|
This was NBC's second miniseries adaptation of a Clavell novel, the first being 1980's highly successful Shōgun. Both take place in the same fictional universe with Noble House featuring connections to Shōgun and another Clavell work, Tai-Pan.
For the miniseries, the timeframe of the novel was changed; Clavell's original novel takes place in the early 1960s, but the miniseries was updated to the 1980s. The building prominently displayed and used as Struan's is Jardine House.
Despite its impressive history and reputation, the international trading company Struan's (the Noble House of the title) is in trouble. Overextended by the previous management, new tai-pan Ian Dunross (Pierce Brosnan) has had to issue public stock to improve the company's financial standing. Even this, however, has not given him the capital he needs. As a result, he is courting a private investor, American billionaire Linc Bartlett (Ben Masters). Bartlett decides secretly to back Dunross' arch enemy, Quillian Gornt (John Rhys-Davies), who will stop at nothing to destroy Struan's. When Dunross realises that Gornt is suddenly strong enough to ruin the Noble House, he must urgently forge new alliances or reshape ancient ones. He romances Bartlett's second-in-command, Casey Tcholok (Deborah Raffin).
A subplot involves the missing half of an ancient coin. Whoever possesses it may ask any favor of the Tai-Pan. Half the coin is acquired by crime lord "Four Finger" Wu (Khigh Dhiegh), who aims to ask the Tai-Pan to help him smuggle opium.
Wu and Bartlett are killed in a natural disaster. Wu's son redeems his father's stolen half-coin for a highly paid position in the Noble House. Dunross gains access to the Bank of China, whose funding allows him to foil Gornt's scheme. Tcholok becomes head of Bartlett's company, allying it with Struan's.
Differences from the novelEdit
Many of the subplots from the novel were left out of the miniseries to simplify the plot. A significant story arc involving KGB espionage in Hong Kong was deleted as the mini-series aired near the close of the Cold War. A further story line involving visiting UK Members of Parliament was removed, as was another involving a former prisoner of war, which provided a link to Clavell's novel King Rat. In the miniseries, Tip Tok-Toh was changed from a mysterious, unofficial contact of the Bank of China to a good friend of Dunross who often appeared at parties.
Several subplots involving Dunross' family were removed. In the novel, Dunross is married and his wife, eldest daughter, sister, and two brothers-in-law (his wife's brother and his sister's husband) are involved in significant subplots while his youngest daughter, son and a cousin also appear in minor roles. In the mini-series, Dunross is a widower and no family members are mentioned.
The bank run depicted in the mini-series was significantly smaller in scope and significance than that depicted in the novel. Finally, in the novel, Struan's is bailed out by the fictional First Central Bank of New York. Although First Central and its vice-president, Dave Murtagh, a significant character in the novel, are mentioned in the mini-series, they play no role in bailing out the Noble House. The Bank of China assumes this role in return for Dunross arranging the release of captured Chinese police mole, Brian Kwok.
The romance between Dunross and Tcholok is not present in the book, as Dunross was a much older man in the novel than the one portrayed by Brosnan.
- Pierce Brosnan as Ian Dunross
- Deborah Raffin as Casey Tcholok
- Ben Masters as Linc Bartlett
- John Rhys-Davies as Quillian Gornt
- Julia Nickson as Orlanda Ramos
- Khigh Dhiegh as "Four Finger" Wu
- Gordon Jackson as Supt. Robert Armstrong
- Burt Kwouk as Phillip Chen
- Nancy Kwan as Claudia Chen
- John van Dreelen as Jacques DeVille
- Ping Wu as Paul Choy
- Lim Kay Tong as Brian Kwok
- Lisa Lu as Ah-Tam
- Damien Thomas as Lando Mata
- Dudley Sutton as Commissioner Roger Crosse
- Ric Young as Tsu-Yan
- Tia Carrere as Venus Poon
- Steven Vincent Leigh as John Chen
- Irene Tsu as Dianne Chen
- John Houseman as Sir Geoffrey Allison
- Denholm Elliott as Alastair Struan
- Harris Laskawy as Charles Blitzmann
- Leon Lissek as Christian Toxe
- Keith Bonnard as Tip Tok-Toh
- Edward Petherbridge as Jason Plumm
- Bennett Ohta as Richard Kwang
- Brian Fong as "Goodweather" Poon
- Helen Funai as Mrs. Kwang
- David Shaughnessy as Dr. Dorn
- John Fujioka as "Baldhead" Kin
- Richard Durden as Paul Havergill
- David Henry as Bruce Johnjohn
- George Innes as Alexi Travkin
- Choy-Ling Man as Mary Li
- Pip Miller as Inspector John Smyth
- Michael Siberry as Linbar Struan
- Duncan Preston as Richard Pugmire
- Vincent Wong as Lim Chu
- Galen Yuen as "Smallpox" Kin
- Nicholas Pryor as Seymour Steigler
Clavell said of the adaptation:
I never really want to doctor my work for TV. We had a problem with Noble House, as with most of the books. There are so many subplots and interwoven characters that we had to drop some things. We felt the changes would work well—and I approved it. Eric goes through the book and literally tears out many of the lesser characters. There's no way it can be done otherwise. I hope Noble House will do for Hong Kong what Shogun did for Japan. In my opinion it remains the queen city of Asia and will go on forever despite the changes coming up in the next few years.
Clavell said that production of the mini series was rushed. NBC did not offer to make it until September 1986, and wanted it within 14 months. He said:
Pierce... simply fell into our lap when he couldn't do the 007 job... It was NBC who suggested Masters (as American corporate raider Linc Bartlett). Frankly I'd never heard of him. Raffin (Casey Tcholok, Bartlett's vice president) was the best of the actresses available to us. Casting, especially at this speed, always has a huge element of luck. Later you learn whether your luck was good or bad. If I sound cavalier, I assure you I'm not. It's terribly important to me that this be well received. Miniseries deals for King Rat and Whirlwind are riding on the success or failure of Noble House, which explains my current state of sweaty anticipation.
The budget was $20 million. Filming took place in Hong Kong and North Carolina.
Broadcast in competition with the 1988 Winter Olympics on ABC, the ratings for the program were generally disappointing. The first installment was the 16th most watched prime time television show of the week (27 rating). The last three installments fell into the next week of Nielsen ratings, and the second installment was 22nd (15.9 rating/24 percent audience share), overshadowed by Olympics coverage. Part 3 was ranked 28th (15.0 rating), and the last episode was 20th (16.3 share).
- Maksian, George (November 19, 1986). "Brosnan Wins a Noble Prize". Philadelphia Daily News. p. 55.
- Davis, Ivor (February 20, 1988). "Clavell Is a Big Winner on the Small Screen". The Globe and Mail. p. 8.
- Wisehart, Bob (February 20, 1988). "Japanese Prison Freed His Muse: James Clavell Lived a Lifetime in 3 Years As a POW". Philadelphia Daily News. p. 18.
- Hill, Michael E. (February 21, 1988). "Pierce Brosnan; Good Luck, Bad Luck or Joss?". The Washington Post. p. Y10.
- Carmody, John (24 February 1988). The TV Column, The Washington Post
- (3 March 1988). Snapping NBC's ratings weep was an Olympic feat for ABC, San Bernardino Sun (Associated Press content)