The Kingdom Airlines flight from Dubai to London is getting ready for take-off and Sam Nelson has decided to be on it – heading back to the UK to try and talk his ex-wife into trying again, despite her telling him not to come. However, on the usually-routine flight back, things don’t go as planned and hijackers take over the plane, moving ahead with their plan ahead of schedule due to one minute snafu that escalates their intentions. Now, there’s an aircraft full of anxious travellers and desperate hijackers, with help and hinderance on the ground… and Sam is stuck in the middle of it.
However, Sam is no stranger to high-pressure situations and negotiations and – refusing to be a hostage to fortune – he puts himself in a position where he can influence events. But with the attackers and the passengers finding reasons to trust and distrust him in equal measure, what impact can he have over the next seven hours… especially when it appears to some that his only priority is getting himself home in one piece…
One of the basic concepts of 24 was a story told in near-as-dammit-Chloe real-time. Hijack arguably offers a similar conceit – the seven episode drama playing out over seven hours of flight-time. But unlike the later seasons of that long-lasting cult hit, the almost real-time factor (not strictly-adhered to when inconvenient here) doesn’t become a central marketing hook, the nature of the up-close and slow-burn drama simply plays into that format rather conveniently to the extent you’ll clock that generalised aspect almost by accident and it doesn’t have to be perfect. Equally, the main claustrophobic nature of a passenger jet with momentary cutaways to characters on the ground and slowly revealing how they’ll play into the drama, adds to the sense of urgency.
The casting of Idris Elba works on a variety of levels. Firstly, he’s obviously a charismatic leading actor, able to brood with the best of them and Hijack gives him far more room to flex than, say, his perfunctory cameo in the recent Extraction II. If Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer in 24 was the wirey, twitchy, almost paranoid counter-terrorist agent from the outset, Elba’s demeanour is pure high-class club bouncer: smart, controlled and whose frame and eyes do the talking – if they say ‘You’re not getting in here tonight…‘ you walk away without arguing the matter further. Secondly, his role as Luther (in the cult series of the same name) runs some useful interference by playing with the audience’s preconceptions. For example, finding that Sam can be an impetuous guy prone to grand gestures and last-minute decisions and who is still mourning the loss of the relationship with his ex-wife and wanting to win her back from her latest beau… well, that rings a lot of dramatic, narrative bells in the first hour of the drama (to the extent it almost works against itself with some viewers possibly thinking ‘Haven’t we covered this territory before?‘). Then again, brilliantly intuitive minds on a professional level but chaotic anarchy in their personal lives has been the cornerstone of many a cop or detective show. But while sharing the same face and optimum pitch voice as Luther, we find out that Sam is a more cerebral character – perhaps equally dangerous and duplicitous in his own way, but pre-calculating all the angles to the extent you’d never play him at pool. If Luther was a wolf that bit the hand that fed him with too much regularity, Sam is more of a panther – often perfectly still and subversive. But it’s also that the audience doesn’t quite know what his next move will be that keeps it interesting… and by the end of the second hour we can see a multitude of reasons why both the passengers and hijackers shouldn’t trust his motives and apparent actions. Should we?
Though Hijack doesn’t technically push any boundaries or reinvent the genre, it’s confident enough to play to its strengths and slightly subvert some of the expected tropes. It’s a feature film remit given extended leg-room to expand, which it does, mostly to decent effect…it’s halfway between guilty pleasure and solid thriller, with the brickbats and bouquets of both on show, but Elba, shouldering the load, cranks up the tension…
Torchwood‘s Eve Myles arrives in the second episode as Alice Sinclair and though she’s a harassed single-mother trying to juggle her own mini-crises on the way to work, it takes her all of a Heathrow minute at her flight-centre desk to bring things screeching into clarity… and to allows the audience to breath out as we finally have a character on the ground following through and not just taking platitudes as proof. Some characters have been suspicious but have had their concerns satiated too quickly (or, by the end of the second episode, terminated with extreme prejudice) yet she’s the person who essentially spots the cascade of unlikely explanations that simply don’t add up and says ‘Hold on, are we really ignoring ALL these warning sign-signs?‘ . You can almost feel the precise second where people around her look at each other, wake-up to the situation and think ‘Shit – how did we miss all that?‘
Neil Maskell gives us a lead hijacker who is driven, calculated, reactive and clearly willing to follow through on his threats of violence – though his motives remain shrouded in early episodes. Elsewhere there’s able support from the likes of Christine Adams as Sam’s ex-wife, Max Beesley as Daniel the police-detective she’s now involved with, Jude Cudjoe as Sam’s son (resentful of the new man in his mother’s life but aware of his father’s foibles), Ben Miles as Robin Allen, the captain of the Kingdom flight and the ever-versatile Archie Panjabi as Zahra, the counterterrorism expert that Daniel gets to connect some of the needed dots as to the validity of Sam’s early SOS.
Though populated by a string of familiar English and European actors, this feels like a series ready for international viewing. Co-created by Lupin’s George Kay and director Jim Field Smith, it’s assured from the outset. The first episode is, by necessity, all set-up, introducing characters as they arrive at the airport departure gate – some of them notably late – and board the plane for take-off. With the exception of Sam himself, the focus is very snapshot, giving us brief elements that may or may not matter later. Some are young, some old, some quiet, some nosey, some opinionated and bristly – in short, exactly the kind of combination you’d likely experience as a traveller. The pilot episode (no pun intended) that asks all the right questions with no immediate intent of answering them. Yet, we know the drama is called Hijack, not ‘crying baby in Seat 24C‘ so we can safely assume that some of these people will not be who they say they are. At least one of these deceits is revealed pretty quickly and is fairly obvious for anyone familiar with the genre, though it’s fun guessing for others in advance and then wondering how others will fit in. (I was wrong about at least one character’s allegiances… I think).
Though Hijack doesn’t technically push any boundaries or reinvent the genre, it’s confident enough to play to its strengths and slightly subvert some of the expected tropes. It’s a feature film remit given extended leg-room to expand, which it does, mostly to decent effect. After the launch with two episodes, it reverts to one a week, arriving Tuesdays on Apple TV+ (a platform rapidly starting to boast some top-class shows after a shaky start) and the only thing to note is that it might have benefitted from either a binge-dump of all its episodes or, had it been on terrestrial tv, being shown over a week of consecutive nights as an ‘event’ because you can only keep the tension going for so long before the ‘snap’ has to come. It’s halfway between guilty pleasure and solid thriller, with the brickbats and bouquets of both on show, but Elba, shouldering the load, cranks up the tension in a way where you genuinely don’t know who is going to do what next… and that’s surely the hallmark of a good enough drama.
- Production Design / VFX8