Alex Rider review: Slick, stylish and smart TV
Ivan Radford | On 07, Jun 2020
James Bond for teens. That was the promise with which Alex Rider first arrived on the scene back in 2000 with Stormbreaker. The novel lived up to it, spawning a run of 11 books and several graphic novels. A film inevitably arrived in 2006, starring Alex Pettyfer, but never took off to the same effect – but the premise’s potential has finally been realised, 14 years later, with Alex Rider the TV series.
Guy Burt brings Anthony Horowitz’s character to the screen as an eight-part thriller, which smartly skips the first novel and instead focuses on Point Blanc, Rider’s second on-page outing. By forcing the series to incorporate the required exposition to introduce the character alongside an entirely different plot, the result is a slick series that balances back-story with a fast-moving mystery.
Alex, for those unacquainted, is a London teen whose uncle suddenly passes away. He then learns that his uncle was actually a spy, and had been covertly training Alex throughout his childhood for the espionage world. And so up pop Alan Blunt (Stephen Dillane), commander of shady MI6 offshoot The Department, and Mrs. Jones (Vicky McClure), his second-in-command, who promptly recruit him for a mission.
The job? Infiltrate the titular Swiss boarding school, which is doing something sinister with its pupils – and so Alex leaves behind best friend Tom (Brenock O’Connor) and guardian Jack (Ronkẹ Adékọluẹ́jọ́) and goes undercover to work out what’s going on behind the blackboards. What connection does it have to his uncle’s death? And how do two assassinations fit in to the bigger picture?
The series takes several episodes to get us to the school proper, but don’t let that fool you into think this is a slow-mover: things move rapidly as pieces fall into place and trails are left for later, while Alex at every turn proves his resourcefulness. That’s a likeable theme that runs through the show: that Alex’s practical smarts, as much as his physical agility, helps him get through any scrapes, rather than a smorgasbord of elaborate gadgets.
Otto Farrant is excellent as the quick-witted kid, managing to be a compelling, pint-sized action hero without being unrelatable or unrealistic. That’s partly thanks to his chemistry with Brenock O’Connor, whose geeky Tom is an instantly believable sidekick – and, in a nice bit of scripting, their friendship proves just as crucial to Rider’s mission as anything he can do by himself.
There’s a fair share of peril, however, and more than one cliffhanger that teases the idea that harm might actually come to our protagonist. Directors Andreas Prochaska (Das Boot the TV series) and Christopher Smith (Triangle, Black Death) have a nice handle on the dark, cool set piece, but parents need not worry: the opening of Episode 1 sets the tone for what’s to come, as we see a murder that’s the perfect balance of sanitised and wholesome yet undeniably unsettling, ideal for teen-and-up viewing that genuinely guarantees to entertain the whole family.
The story, meanwhile, is the right blend of darkly serious and amusingly daft, and the cast get the knowing atmosphere just right, with Line of Duty standout Vicky McClure clearly having a ball doing something a bit different, Marli Siu adding emotional stakes to the mid-section as fellow Point Blanc student Kyra, and Ronkẹ Adékọluẹ́jọ́ grounding the whole thing just at the point when it could become absurd.
The result is a propulsive thriller that’s not too demanding but never disposable, nailing the kind of binge-ready viewing that family living rooms need right now – and all wrapped up with stylish opening credits and a catchy theme tune. James Bond for teens? Roll on the whole series.
Alex Rider: Season 1 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.