Full disclosure: I came to this series a fan of the books. I think Anthony Horowitz’s (@anthonyhorowitz) Baby Bond character, now spanning at least 12 novels, is one of the prime reasons why young adult fiction continued to thrive post its initial Potter boom.
I saw the 2006 Stormbreaker adaptation which was, perhaps, a little “too full of blue sky thinking” really. But I was well disposed towards this and my hopes went up when I realised that they are skating over the top of most of Stormbreaker, the novel, and really beginning with Point Blanc, my enthusiasm increased not least because I think this is probably the best novel in the whole of the Alex Rider series.
So, was I disappointed? Nope. I think, considering the crowded market, the pressure of adapting novels as popular as this, Eleventh Hour TV and Amazon Prime have done an exceptional job.
Casting Otto Farrant (Thomas Grey in The White Queen) as the eponymous lead no doubt attracted some negativity because he’s 20 rather than the 14 that Alex Rider is in the novels but he’s is really good as a slightly ageless late teen and it allows the character to look very convincing in the fighting and action scenes which are put together brilliantly.
One of the points about the novels which made them such a best seller is that although this is Junior James Bond, the actual world of espionage is seen almost through a jaded Le Carre-esque haze of internecine squabbles, blackmail and skulduggery. Rider is a reluctant spy forced to do the bidding of a morality-free state by adults exploiting his skills. There is no shying away from that in this adaptation.
In fact, far from shying away, the production design reflects. Gone are the primary colours of the earlier movie. Here, MI6 is rendered in greys and ash tones. The very strong supporting cast playing Alan Blunt (Game of Thrones Stephen Dillane and Line of Duty’s always excellent Vicky McClure are rooted in this world and seems to exist in a gunmetal sepia which is atmospheric and adds tension and verisimilitude to the whole series.
Added to this mix, Ronke Adekoluejo (Dr Who) as house keeper Jack Starbright and Alex’s best friend Tom Harris, another Games of Thrones alum Brenock O’Connor, a character vastly expanded from the novels, are both very well drawn and manage that difficult task of being real, rounded characters as well as vehicles for exposition and moving the story on.
The set design for Point Blanc is breathtakingly good – you can smell all of that Amazon money just pouring off the screen – and the action set pieces (the make shift snowboard, if you know, you know) are done brilliantly. Being the stunt co-ordinator on this project must have been
The sound design is also a huge bonus. Both the tension building scenes and the action are underpinned by some subtle yet effective scores and, always a bonus, there is a belter of an opening theme tune by London artist Samm Henshaw. I wouldn’t be against EON coming and sniffing around Henshaw for the next grown up Bond theme, although there’s every chance Farrant will be in an old folk’s home by the time they get around to making whatever comes after No Time to Die.
Is it perfect? No, but what is? Guy Burt has done a superb job with adapting Horowitz’s world but occasionally the dialogue is a bit clunky. There is an actual “They crossed the line,”
“No, they can’t even see the line anymore,” exchange which is just… Ouch.
Also, I’m fairly sure the street where Alex lives bears an uncanny resemblance to the one from BBC comedy Outnumbered which did keep making me expect Hugh Denis to wander out on the street and tell everyone to keep it down, which did pull me out of the story a little.
Finally, there is also something of a question about exactly who this is marketed towards – but teens are by their nature neither fully adult nor fully children and that does sit well with the tone of this production which is too violent for little kids but perhaps too slow moving for distracted second screeners?
However, any show with the charm and confidence to have a character wear a t-shirt saying, The Book Was Better, has got to be worth watching, right? Roll on Season Two!