This review contains spoilers.
The season opener of Hustle series eight last week didn’t really fire me up, if I’m honest. The whole ‘business as usual’ feel it presented was faithful to the series, but the sparks I so badly wanted to see weren’t evident.
With this being the last ever Hustle season I was expecting more, but the news that in this episode Mickey would spend almost the entire story tied up in the boot of a car made me decidedly concerned that the show might be going out with a whimper, and not a bang. What a fool I am.
What the Mickey scenario didn’t explain was that the reason Adrian Lester wasn’t in this episode to any great extent was that he directed it, and a jolly good job he did of bringing us some really classic Hustle. Technically this wasn’t his very first try in the directorial chair, he made a short film last year called Of Mary, but given his lack of experience in side of the business, his TV series directorial debut was most impressive. My only complaint, and it’s a minor one, is that he threw so many clever shots and so much visual flair at us that it seemed marginally over-produced. But then that’s Hustle, which isn’t exactly documentary framed in shooting style.
Over the past eight years it’s become apparent that classic Hustle requires three things: engaging protagonist(s), quirky characters, and a sufficiently convoluted path to misdirect the viewer. This story had all three, and golden versions of each to boot.
Martin Kemp returned to playing gangsters, something he’s done very effectively all the way back to The Krays, and opposing him was the equally caricatured Peter Save, as sadistic Peter Polycarpou. They’re both after a stolen Picasso, though they mostly end up chasing a busload of fakes, all fashioned by the wonderfully batty Sheila Hancock as Dolly Hammond.
She entirely steals the show, and demonstrates wonderfully that her 78 years haven’t impaired her comic timing whatsoever. Her passion for gin and Sean are well exploited in the story, as is her ability to omit vital bits of information from any questions she’s posed. Bill Bailey also appears as the master of the fried breakfast, Cyclops, a character that’s he’s played twice before.
A strength of this Hustle was the way that the true extent of the deception that’s going on is only apparent towards the end of the story. That, and the six hour window to save him allows Mickey’s crew to think on their feet rather than plan things with the level of preparation they’d normally expect.
For me, this harked back to the original Mission: Impossible TV series, where the brilliance often came from the team thinking spontaneously when the plan falls apart, creating a genuine sense of excitement for the viewer. When things go to plan then Hustle can be fun, but when they go wrong, it’s magic.
As ever when Adrian Lester isn’t the focal point it’s usually the excellent Robert Glenister (Ash) who steps into the breach, and in his story he’s firing on all cylinders. The speech to the two gangsters he gives where he threatens them was delivered with Shakespearean gusto and more than a degree of showmanship.
In the end this was a well written story by show creator Tony Jordan, elegantly directed by lead actor Adrian Lester, and majestically performed by the crew and guest cast. Hustle isn’t fading away, it’s going out all guns blazing, thankfully.
Next week’s story involves Emma ending up in prison, something they previously did to Albert, I recall. But I’m sure she’ll get out by the time the credits roll, trust me.
Read our review of the last episode, here.