TV review: Hard Sun, a gritty crime drama with a twist

Joint Editor-in-Chief Olivia Gavoyannis provides a SPOILER-FREE review of the BBC's hard hitting crime drama Hard Sun, starring Jim Sturgess and Agyness Deyn.

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Image: IMDb

Power, murder, corruption, mystery, betrayal and guilt. On paper the script of Hard Sun contains all the makings of an ambitious crime drama. But it is the outstanding acting and the unorthodox setting that make this BBC series a compelling update on the popular TV genre.

The series revolves around two detectives – Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess) and Elaine Renko (Agyness Deyn) – who are bound together by the discovery of a devastating secret. As the twists and turns of the plot play out, these two characters are torn between upholding their professional duties, protecting their mutual secret, and a compulsive desire to uncover each other’s hidden agendas.

Nothing new here – you might assume – but BAFTA and Emmy-nominated writer Neil Cross distinguishes Hard Sun from previous crime dramas by setting it in a pre-apocalyptic world, presenting viewers with a haunting vision of a London that is on the brink of destruction.

Neil Cross includes David Bowie’s hit ‘Five Years’ at the end of one of the episodes, no doubt as an ode to the song that inspired him to set Hard Sun in a world that will be destroyed at the end of a countdown of – you guessed it – five years.

This pre-apocalyptic scenario adds an interesting dimension to the drama, and the power struggle between the detectives and the government over the knowledge of this catastrophe raises the troubling moral question of where the limits of government control and surveillance should lie; a topic that has come under much scrutiny in recent years.

Agyness Deyn and Jim Sturgess. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

So far only two episodes of the drama have been aired, and reactions to the first part of the series have been mixed, to say the least. As soon as the first episode aired, Twitter was inundated with both praise and dismissal of #HardSun; some raved about the terrific acting performances, while others were keen to pick holes in the series. Even on the Guardian’s website one reviewer hailed it as ‘a case of overcaffeinated, blood-soaked nonsense,’ while another gave it four stars, and extolled its virtues as a ‘gutsy drama.’

In spite of the conflicting reviews that I read on the eve of its release, when I finally got round to watching the first episode a few days later I was gripped. So gripped – in fact – that it took me a mere 24 hours to watch the entire six part series on BBC iPlayer.

The essence of the series’ appeal stems from its complex plot. Just as one character’s secret motive is revealed, there is a new complication, and right up until the last episode viewers are left hanging on for answers to the many questions that arise from the series’ neatly interweaved sub-plots.

This said, the ambitious story line would be nothing without the compelling acting. Although she is best known for her successful modelling career, Agyness Deyn’s performance proves that she is also a force to be reckoned with on the small screen; she brings real depth to the character of DI Renko alongside Jim Sturgess, who is very convincing as the conflicted DCI Hicks. The supporting cast are just as formidable, and rise to the challenge of delivering powerful performances in both poignant, and distressingly violent scenes.

The brutality of the series is no surprise, considering the track record of Neil Cross, who also wrote the critically acclaimed psychological crime drama Luther, which was first aired on the BBC back in 2010.

Hard Sun follows in the footsteps of Luther, and the BBC iPlayer warning that the programme ‘contains some violence and disturbing scenes’ is a monumental understatement. Without giving too much away, within the first episode one character is stabbed and almost burnt alive and another gets impaled on a tree after falling from the heights of a high-rise building; a scene that is made even more grisly by the full-frontal shot of the victim after they have met their gruesome end.

You might expect such violence to subside as the series goes on, but having watched all six episodes, I can confirm that it does not.  In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the violence gets even more aggressive as the episodes go on, and I did end up watching quite a few scenes in the last episode through my fingers. A quick Google search reveals that I am not alone in my shock. Indeed, the graphic nature of the programme has led to some online debate, with the Radio Times asking its viewers, ‘Was Hard Sun’s first episode too violent?’ in an online poll.

All things considered, the series is certainly bleak and gruesome, but it makes for compulsive viewing. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking for a hard-hitting TV drama to distract them from the January blues.

 

All of the episodes from the first series of Hard Sun can be watched online now, at BBC iPlayer: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

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