‘Hard Sun’: A Ziggy-zagged thriller with a certain flare…

Hardly the first genre show to use Bowie's lyrics as an inspiration, 'Hard Sun' offers a high-concept, pre-apocalyptic procedural...

Police officer Elaine Renko (Agyness Deyn) is attacked in her own home. She knows her assailant but he shows her little mercy, savagely beating her, stabbing her and leaving her for dead in her burning kitchen.

Eighteen months on, having barely survived the incident, Renko is back on the force and brought in to partner another detective Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess). Hicks suspects she’s been brought in to keep an eye on him – after all, he knows that there’s every reason for his bosses to doubt his moral compass. Renko denies any such agenda and the new partners are thrust into an investigation when a known computer hacker takes a one-way trip from a high-rise apartment.

Now the race is on to find out what the hacker had uncovered – and suddenly Renko and Hicks’ distrust of each other may be the least of their problems. While they juggle private secrets and meetings they probably wouldn’t want their counterpart to know about, unknown forces will do anything they have to curtail their investigation and stop the devastating, world-changing information on a lost flash-drive from going public… 


“My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there…”

On several levels, Hard Sun is a difficult show to review without revealing significant spoilers – though those familiar with David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust’s ‘Five Years’  may ultimately spot the connection and unapologetic inspiration. Most shows take their first hour to set out their stall, but Hard Sun sets it out, over-turns it and gives it a sharp kick in the nether-regions.  The first episode’s plotline and its episode resolution largely speak to differing agendas; the pilot is mainly a mix of familiar procedural intrigue and then a cat-and-mouse chase… but it is essentially setting something up that is a reaction to those events and revelations rather than continuing on with the same pattern for its run.

It would be hard, from a majority of the pilot, to label this as science-fiction – the show having more in common with Spooks and Law & Order than The X-Files or Bowie stablemates Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. But the revelation of what is on the flash-drive and the sheer scale of the implications therein is the pivot that sends our main characters and the world itself in a different, scary direction – particularly in its closing scenes.

With Luther creator Neil Cross at the helm, there’s some connective tissue here with tone and attitude. The opening attack and a book-ending confrontation between our two leads are both fairly brutal and a chase across suburbia has genuine tension. Idris Elba may not be striding across the screen this time, but Cross knows his strengths and populates his story with equally rough-and-ready personas who inhabit the more interesting grey areas. Consistently provocative and in-your-face, it’s as if he’s deliberately poking the viewing audience with a stick that balances some genre mainstays but keeps it from ever getting too comfortable.

Despite elements of high-concept, Agyness Deyn and Jim Sturgess give nicely edgy performances. Deyn is particularly impressive – she inhabits a complicated character and a role that defies some expectations. Renko’s buzzcut hair and clothing  plays to the beats of someone who doesn’t want to be defined by gender or physical appearance, understandable after being brutally attacked in her own home. It’s fair to say that in her first minute on screen, advancing through her dark apartment, you could be looking at a young man or woman of indeterminate age – but in the harsh light of day she is undeniably striking, awkward and wary but her eyes burning with a ‘Don’t give me a hard time – but if you do be prepared to use a limb‘ inner fire. Handled right – hopefully not merely ‘damaged’ and therefore ‘hard’ – she certainly has the potential to be an imposing face for 2018.

Sturgess’ compromised detective – one who is clearly breaking rules on a personal and professional basis – gives his character an undeniable but dangerous charm. With corruption, adultery and possibly worse, there’s a danger it could all fall into EastEnders-type bravado and shennenigans, but Cross and Sturgess only hand out enough information in the first chapter for us to reserve judgement… and to make us hold on to find out more.

There are times when disbelief has to be suspended from an atmospheric height: look beyond trope-ish looking ‘top secret’ graphics and de rigeur secret service antics and it’s all very earnest primetime hokum that could all fully implode like a supernova at any moment. But if you understand that the flash-drive and the future of the world are simply the maguffins for a character-study of people who suddenly have to re-evaluate their past personal losses and fickle future priorities… that the small battles can matter as much as an already lost war… then Cross and his cohorts once again deliver the goods.

We’re not promised tomorrow, but in an era where Mulder, Scully and The X-Files have gone cold,  Hicks, Renko and Hard Sun could yet rise.

Hard Sun is currently showing on Saturdays on the BBC, the entire run is available in the UK on iPlayer and will be shown internationally on Hulu in March.

  • Story
  • Acting
  • Pacing
  • Potential