This spoiler-free review is based on the opening two episodes of The Rook.
A woman wakes up surrounded by dead bodies with no idea who she is or how she got there. If that sounds like just another Bourne Identity clone, you’re mistaken: The Rook is something much more distinctive, swapping out military skills and experiments for supernatural powers.
Our hero is Myfanwy (Emma Greenwell), who has abilities she can only begin to guess, but mostly seem to involve electrocuting other people when she’s in danger, angry or afraid. She finds this out because she tells herself – she finds in her apartment a string of video recordings from before she lost her memory, explaining who she is. That, to be precise, is a Rook, an agent in the “Checquy”, an organisation of super-powered sinister types.
They include Joely Richardson as the organisation’s Bishop, Linda, Adrian Lester as its Bishop, Conrad, and (somewhere else in the chess metaphor ranks) Catherine Steadman, Jon Fletcher and Ronan Raftery as Gestalt, a four-person being with a shared consciousness (and many shared bottles of bleach for their eerily uniform hair). And, coming in from another board entirely, is Olivia Munn as Monica, an American operative with her own skills.
How did Myfanwy know to leave a message to herself? How did she plant the clues leading to her apartment and office? And how has nobody else realised that she can no longer recall anything? These aren’t the kind of questions that The Rook deals with, preferring to push ahead and just let our imaginations fill in the blanks until answers become apparent.
It’s a shame, then, that its own imagination isn’t given the same opportunity. The ideas behind The Rook are wonderfully weird, with Myfanwy and the Gestalt sharing a brief fling that alone makes the mind boggle. Mobile phone hacking devices, telekinetic interrogations and electrifying confrontations all add to the nifty world-building, and yet every time things threaten to go properly strange, The Rook reins it back in to keep things serious. The cast follow suit, with Lester and Richardson sadly not able to have full-out fun with their unusual, unsettling roles.
Greenwell, though, sells the serious contrast in personas in her video messages to and from herself, visibly juxtaposing the two different Myfanwys, and capturing the curiosity and caution about what her unexpected powers might mean. But as human-trafficking and police procedurals take up the majority of the slickly paced runtime, you wish The Rook would drop the conventional structure and shoot for something crazier; it’s more distinctive than a Bourne Identity clone, but doesn’t seem to have realised that itself yet.
The Rook is available exclusively on Virgin Media in Ultra HD, with new episodes arriving weekly on Mondays. It is available to TV customers with a Full House, VIP or the new Bigger and Ultimate Oomph bundles and a V6 box.