AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
Having lost the distribution rights to the James Bond films a couple of years ago, Sony must be rubbing their hands at the 007-shaped hole that’s suddenly opened up in the schedules – especially when they’ve got their own superspy replacement already revved up on the starting grid.
Of course, Alex Rider – hero of 11 bestselling Anthony Horowitz children’s books – is a schoolboy, so much of the 007 playbook is off-limits. Bond never gets grounded, for one thing, and instead of an Aston Martin DB5, Alex has to make do with a drop-handle racing bike. He’s also a lot less smooth with the ladies – in fact he blushes even talking to girls.
On every other score, though, this slick eight-part adaptation of Horowitz’s second novel, Point Blanc (the first, Stormbreaker, was made into an underperforming movie in 2006) ticks all the Bond boxes, from the guns, gadgets and daredevil stunts to the mad scientist villain (Haluk Bilginer’s Dr Hugo Grief) holed up in an exotic Alpine lair.
Otto Farrant is a terrific find as the orphaned teen who’s recruited by a black ops division of MI6 to investigate suspicious goings on at a school for unruly rich kids. Vicky McClure channels the spirit of George Smiley – certainly in the specs department – as his handler Mrs Jones, while Stephen Dillane’s Alan Blunt is like a more shady M.
Horowitz’s 20-year-old thriller has been updated to bring it into the age of Facebook, YouTube and Russian oligarchs, and there’s a cool urban soundtrack for extra Tik-Tok generation appeal. They’ve also slightly aged up Alex (he’s 14 in the books; Farrant is actually 20, but playing younger) as part of a clear strategy to appeal to an older demographic. But in going for gritty – there’s bloody violence, some bad language, and uncomfortable torture scenes – have they squandered the opportunity to unite the whole family around a shared lockdown viewing experience? Or have they simply intuited that, in 2020, the last thing kids want is anything that’s obviously aimed at them?
I MAY DESTROY YOU
In 2018, the writer and actress Michaela Coel was sexually assaulted during an all-night writing session for her Bafta-winning comedy Chewing Gum. From this all-too real trauma, she has now crafted one of the most striking and idiosyncratic TV dramas of the year – one which, as well as being a timely study of sexual consent, serves as a reminder of just how few authentic black voices there are on our screens. It’s uncomfortable viewing at times – but that’s not really an excuse for looking away, is it?
A year on from their multi-million dollar fantasy Good Omens, Michael Sheen and David Tennant have reunited on a slightly smaller budget – so small, in fact, they’re using their own homes, and their own wives (actresses Anna Lundberg and Georgia Tennant) to send themselves up in a sort of lockdown, Zoom-based version of The Trip. It’s quite funny, if you like highbrow, actorly jokes about Pirandello and the Marquis de Sade. And if you don’t, they both have amusing lockdown hair.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, June 11 2020 (c) Waitrose Weekend