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Red Eye review – the mile-high mystery that wishes it were Hijack
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Red Eye review – the mile-high mystery that wishes it were Hijack

If it’s Sunday – or Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday – it must be time for a serviceable new thriller starring Richard Armitage. They’re usually on Netflix and adapted from a Harlan Coben bestseller (The Stranger, Stay Close, Fool Me Once); though they’re also sometimes on Netflix and adapted from a Josephine Hart novel (Damage, renamed Obsession for TV). This time, he is serviceably thrilling on ITV1 and ITVX in Red Eye, written by Peter A Dowling (with Jingan Young taking on episode four).

Armitage is Dr Matthew Nolan, first seen stumbling out of a Beijing nightclub with a knife wound, before smashing his car into a traffic barrier in an attempt, one assumes, to avoid another stabbing. Viewerly interest piqued, we cut to him arriving at Heathrow and promptly being arrested – or whatever variation these border agents perform – for the killing of a young woman who was in his car when it crashed. She was the daughter of a Party general and, in order not to jeopardise a fragile energy deal with China, the government agrees to send him straight back there to answer the charges.

But, splutters the good doctor, he didn’t do it! There was no one in the car with him when he crashed. He spoke to the woman at the post-conference party – where many other good doctors were in attendance – and left. He’s being framed. But why? And by whom?

The officer assigned to escort him back to China on the titular red-eye flight cares not a jot. She is DC Hana Li (Jing Lusi), narked because she has been stuck with this task below her pay grade purely because she is of Chinese descent, and convinced of his guilt because, um, the border agent she met said he done it and showed her a picture of the dead woman. “Your money and your white privilege made you think you could get away with it,” she snarls as she handcuffs him to his seat. She does let him down double G&Ts to his heart’s content, though I hope she brings a little more critical thinking to her actual cases. But there is no time to dwell on this, as things are moving apace.

Four other doctors at the conference, known to have seen Nolan talking to this woman, are asked to return to China with their extradited colleague to give witness statements. Three agree, one does not. He is last seen muttering suspiciously into a phone and then getting kidnapped into a white van. Should have got on the plane, Chris.

Or should he? Because within a few hours of takeoff, the bodies are piling up. Poisonings; thumps on heads made to look like accidents. Where is Idris Elba from Hijack when you need him? Fortunately, DC Li steps up. It’s a more phone-calls-to-authorities approach than Elba’s hands-on method at first, but more action soon arrives. The pilot remains unharmed at the end of the first two episodes available for review, but as he kisses a photo of his family before takeoff we assume he is marked for death. I suspect there will be some plummeting to be done before this thing is over.

Back on terra firma, we have Lesley Sharp miscast as Madeline Delaney, head of MI5. This seems to mean moving and talking very slowly to everyone. (But I suppose this may be accurate? Most of my knowledge of MI5 comes from Spooks and they all seem to move pretty fast there, but I accept that this too is television and possibly not an infallible source.) She is against Nolan’s extradition but the Home Office is adamant that the doctor goes. There is clearly something sinister writhing beneath the surface involving our government and the Chinese, but whether this is all to do with the building of a few nuclear power stations or darker forces at work is not yet clear.

Meanwhile, wouldn’t you know it, a bloody journalist has picked up the scent and has started to investigate Nolan’s unusual return to the scene of his alleged crime. She is Li’s half-sister, Jess (Jemma Moore), and they are already on no-speaks because of some unspecified betrayal over her last story.

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That, really, ladies and gentleman, is about all there is to say about this perfectly fun, perfectly functional twist-n-conspiracy-laden tale. If you watch the first episode you will very likely watch them all and they will slip down a treat. And then you will forget about it until the next time Armitage pops up – Tuesday, say.

Source: theguardian.com