Hard Sun is one of those complicated ‘high concept’ affairs, which should make it a much harder sell than most of the prime time drama fare currently on show on TV.
It’s created and written by Neil Cross, who brought us the similarly ‘heightened/hyper reality’ drama Luther. Both series feature situations that are amped up to the point where you know the whole thing is too over-the-top to be true, but it’s both ludicrous and ludicrously entertaining even as you delight in pointing out all the myriad plot oversights.The basic proposition here is that detectives Hicks and Renko (Jim Sturgess and Agyness Deyn) stumble across confidential information suggesting that the Earth will suffer an extinction level event in less than five years time. The Security Services (represented by “Twice Upon a Time”‘s Nikki Amulka-Bird as Grace Morrison) will stop at nothing to prevent the release of the information.
There’s a partial disclosure – enough to make the phrase ‘Hard Sun’ a mysterious meme on the internet and subject of a thousand conspiracy theories – but not enough to send the whole of society into an anarchic meltdown. Yet, at least.
That leaves the series free to dwell on the small-scale impact of the news on individuals, starting with Hicks and Renko. Episodes also have stand-alone stories, such as featuring a father who decides to annihilate his entire family rather than let them face the end of the world; or a lapsed priest (played by the ever-compelling Richard Coyle) whose faith has been so damaged by knowing about Hard Sun that he seeks out to kill people just for showing kindness to strangers.
There’s an additional third level to the narrative, which sees Renko assigned to investigate Hicks for his role in the death of his old partner Alex Butler. And beyond that, the two main characters also have their private dramas – especially Renko, whose mentally-ill son Daniel (Jojo Macari) tries to kill her in her own home in tn arresting opening to the first episode.
There’s arguably too much going on here for its own good, but Cross successfully pulled off the same balancing act of multiple elements in the first season of Luther and he largely does so again here. The show lacks the magnetic star power of that show’s Idris Elba, but makes up for it with a powerhouse performance from Deyn who steals the show. In contrast, to me at least Sturgess feels miscast and unconvincing (and too young) as the hard-nosed, cynical Hicks.
As a whole, the series is probably too dark, nihilistic, challenging and graphically violent to be a mainstream success despite all the promotion by the BBC. At the end of the day, I found it more accessible than the charmless McMafia but almost just as hard to really like on an emotional level. Cross says he has a five-season plan for the show, but I would be surprised it he gets the opportunity to put it into practice – which is, on balance, unfortunate.
Rating: ★ ★ ★
Hard Sun airs on BBC One at 9.30pm on Saturday evening. The entire series is available as a boxset on the BBC iPlayer. It will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on February 19, 2018.