This Hard Sun review contains spoilers. It originally ran on Den of Geek UK.
Hard Sun Episode 1
With our world inching daily closer towards a mass extinction event, a show about Earth being slapped with an imminent expiry date should probably feel like gritty realism rather than escapism. Hard Sun doesn’t, though. It’s impeccably escapist, because it isn’t set in the real world but in the decidedly more exciting world of the action thriller. That means there’s an explosion and a punch-up and an international conspiracy every ten minutes, making it exactly the thing with which to fill your eyes in the drizzly, grey month of January.
Hard Sun also represents excellent value for your time investment in this TV-flooded age, as you come away from episode one feeling as though you’ve watched three new shows at once. There’s one about a detective under suspicion of having murdered a colleague and the undercover DI sent in to investigate him. There’s one about a tough-as-nails DI whose estranged son tried to murder her. There’s one about hackers, flash drives, M15 spooks and corpses getting impaled on trees. And there’s one about there only being five years left of life on Earth. (That’s four shows, isn’t it? Bonus!)
The leads are well-cast, and, judging by the scraps they have in this first hour, well-hard. Agyness Deyn plays DI Elaine Renko, whom we first meet in a thrillingly violent scene in which she fights off an attacker who turns out to be her, er, hard son. Stabbed, beaten, slashed and doused in petrol, Renko crawls to safety while her house explodes. Eighteen months later, she’s fighting fit and back at work, sniffing out potentially corrupt colleagues while generally being pretty top at her job. We like Elaine.
We’re less keen on Elaine’s backstory, which appears to be one of the boringly off-the-shelf rape backstories TV writers seem so keen on giving tough-as-nails women characters. (Male characters don’t require sexual violence in their past as an explanation for their toughness. They can just be tough without having a rape to thank for it.)
Still, it’s early days yet so benefit of the doubt and all that. Hard Sun likes to surprise, too (who predicted ‘mum’? I thought twin sister for sure) so let’s stay open to the possibility that it will also surprise us on that front.
Jim Sturgess plays DCI Charlie Hicks, a London detective of dubious moral character. We meet Charlie committing armed robbery (bad) then learn he’s robbed a criminal gang and given the money to the wife of his dead colleague (good). He’s a loving husband and father to his pregnant wife and young daughter (good) but is also shagging the aforementioned wife of his dead colleague (bad). And as mentioned, he’s also a murder suspect (bad/good depending on outcome).
Hard Sun on the March 2018 Sci Fi Fidelity podcast:
So far, the action scenes are what really recommends Hard Sun. That, and the London locations. Renko and Hicks’ Thameside fight, which took place on one of those scrubby bits of beach on which we’re used to seeing corpses wash up in TV drama, was visceral and visually arresting. The previous work of Brian Kirk, director of the first two episodes, includes Game Of Thrones so he’s no stranger to action, ambition and scale.
The hour’s most exciting moment came from Hicks’ speech at gunpoint on that residential street. That was terrifically tense, the excitement ratcheting up a notch with every smashed car window. A scene like that convinces you that Hard Sun could develop into an ideal replacement for Spooks or Luther at their best – big, loud, ludicrous dramas with a million diverting things going on at once.
After Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes, crime dramas inspired by David Bowie songs have been a lucky combination for the BBC. Judging by this flashily hectic start, that streak’s may just continue.