Written by Neil Cross / Directed by Brian Kirk / showing on BBC1 and available on the BBC iPlayer
I’m not sure anyone’s tried to splice an apocalyptic (or as it’s been described pre-apocalyptic) drama with a police series before but I am sure that it’s a long time since the opening episode of anything matched the intensity of this. You’d probably have to go back to The Shadow Line for that. Hard Sun seems to play by the same rules which are that you take the viewer one step at a time from something that seems routine and becomes more surreal as it goes. Whereas The Shadow Line chose to open with a very long atmospheric scene, Hard Sun on the other hand smacks you- and indeed its chief protagonist- in the face right away. And it never looks back.
Spoilers past this point.
Neil Cross has form with this sort of thing- he wrote some Spooks and Doctor Who episodes and created the slightly bonkers Luther. Hard Sun is obviously not going to be anything conventional. It starts with Agyness Deyn’s character- to whom we haven’t even been properly introduced- getting beaten up and almost incinerated. Incidentally the later reveal of the attacker’s identity is a doozy. Within the first quarter of an hour someone else has fallen from a block of flats onto a tree. This violence punctuates a narrative that starts as a police investigation and finishes with news of the end of the world.
Cross chooses to utilise a range of what might be considered conventional crime or spy procedural devices in different ways so while Deyn’s newly transferred DI Elaine Renko is also investigating DCI Charlie Hicks over the recent death of his previous DI (whose wife Hicks had been having an affair with) the two are trying to find a hacker they believe is responsible for the death of the man who fell from the flats. Their surveillance operation is pulled from above but they pursue it anyway and end up in a mess of trouble.
The episode is tautly assembled with doomy incidental music and a sense of foreboding given every scene by director Brian Kirk’s tracking shots and also Neil Davidge’s moody score. Every time we see the Sun it is framed as a menacing object. It’s no secret – and perhaps it should have been made more of one- to the viewer what is going to be on the memory stick that Renko and Hicks end up sneaking away from a brutal if unlikely MI5 assault. The Earth has five years left before the so called `hard Sun` burns us up. Cue an obvious but nonetheless superb deployment of Bowie’s `Five Years` as Renko travels back from having refused to hand over the USB to Hicks whose family are being held by the spooks. It’s a soup that some viewers may find stretches credulity but there is no doubting it is gripping and involving. Both Aygeness Deyn and Jim Sturgess do a lot to lend verisimilitude to even the oddest developments.
Despite the intriguing shenanigans that has gone before it is Renko and Hicks discovering this information that looks set to provide the fulcrum for future episodes. What would you if you found out something like that? What exactly is a hard Sun anyway? Hopefully Neil Cross will be able to match the tone and tilt of this riveting opener and examine that question.