Hunted starring Melissa George PREVIEW

Sam Hunter takes aim
Melissa George as Sam Hunter in Hunted. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1: Part 1/8 starts Thursday, 4 October, 9pm
Story: Sam Hunter, an operative for the elite private intelligence and security firm Byzantium, is finishing a mission in Tangier when an attempt on her life leaves her critically injured. Not knowing who tried to kill her, she disappears to a remote location to recover, regroup and retrain.

Hunted is filling the spy slot left on BBC1 by Spooks. And the Beeb has chucked a lot at this to make it work, including writer Frank The X Files Spotnitz, lavish production and a pulsating narrative. Up against the wheezing Spooks, Hunted gets off to a slick and pretty gripping start.

The heat is on – Sam fights back

The action kicks off in Tangier with Sam Hunter sleeping with the enemy. This prologue is hectic and has more twists than a whole season of Spooks, with an intricate operation unfolding that involves double-crosses, springing a tortured doctor from captivity, a staged assassination, gun fights and punch-ups.

Happily, the action settles after Sam, played by Melissa George, is shot when she is set up at a remote cafe. Was it her lover, fellow operative Aidan Marsh, who betrayed her, or another colleague?

Scott Handy as the Blank-faced Man
She goes into hiding for a year to recover at her family’s former home in remote Scotland, and we learn about a violent moment in her past, which offers an insight into her odd habit of sleeping curled up in the corner of a room (that’s how she cowered during her terrifying night in childhood).

Patrick Malahide as Turner

The intrigue gathers pace when Sam stuns her boss and colleagues at private spy firm Byzantium by turning up for work, intending to uncover the person who betrayed her. Her first assignment is working undercover as a nanny at the home of a nasty piece of work, vicious corporate honcho Jack Turner, played by professional sneerer Patrick Malahide.

It’s a thriller with plenty of layers and heart-stopping moments, as Sam creeps around Turner’s fortress home trying to plant video bugs while Scott Handy plays a scary assassin – the Blank-faced Man – who is targeting Sam, or Turner, or both. Given The X Files‘ record in generating spin around characters such as the Cigarette Smoking Man, this killer could be the show’s first cult figure.

Melissa George – action woman
How does the permanently pouting Melissa George fare (Gillian Anderson had apparently been first option for the part)? The former Home and Away actress can never have appeared in anything as physically taxing at this. She’s not completely convincing when beating up three armed heavies, though she cleverly sets light to one of them, but she is a presence that will quickly win over many viewers – haunted, sympathetic but tough.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Crane

Where Hunted does succeed in this opener, called Mort, is in adding a bit of emotional heart to all the smash-bang-wallop. It is photographed superbly, and the action – which flits from North Africa to Scotland to London to Istanbul and Amsterdam – won’t let anyone doze off.

Cast: Melissa George Sam Hunter; Adam Rayner Aidan Marsh, Sam’s colleague and love interest; Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje Deacon Crane; Morven Christie Zoe Morgan; Lex Shrapnel Ian Fowkes; Stephen Campbell Moore Stephen Turner; Oscar Kennedy Edward Turner; Tom Beard Bingham; Patrick Malahide Jack Turner; Stephen Dillane Rupert Keel; Scott Handy Black-faced Man; Uriel Emil Hasan Moussa; Dhafer L’Abidine Bernard Faroux; Indira Varma Natalie Thorpe

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Spooks (MI-5) – 10 reasons why we will miss it

Harry and Ruth. Pics: BBC

The Spooks of MI-5 may have survived assassination by the Taliban, Chinese agents and evil Russians, but the conniving mandarins of the BBC are much more ruthless and resourceful.

They’ve announced that series 10, starting next month, will be the last. Ben Stephenson, BBC drama controller, said (possibly while stroking a white cat), that Spooks had been a hit groundbreaking series that had helped to redefine BBC drama.

‘I would like to thank all those involved in the making of the show over the last decade both on and off screen,’ Stephenson said, ‘and hope fans will tune in this September to see what promises to be a fittingly high-octane, thrilling finale.’

This will focus on  Section D chief Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) confronting a secret from his past that could wreck him and the woman he loves, Ruth (Nicola Walker). New faces will include Lara Pulver (True Blood, Robin Hood) as new team leader Erin Watts following Lucas North’s devastating betrayal in series nine, along with Alice Krige (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Deadwood) and Jonathan Hyde (Titanic, Jumanji).

Before the final round of explosions and betrayals, here are 10 reasons why SpooksMI-5 to our American and French allies – will be sorely missed…

Lucas and Harry in series nine

1 Cracking stories
Lucas’s betrayal at the end of the last series, or the discovery that Connie was the traitor in series seven had enough gasp! factor to win the series audiences of more than six million in the UK and make it a worldwide hit in 50 countries.

2 Terrific cast
Spooks has raised the profile of stars including Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, Rupert Penry-Jones, Richard Armitage and Hermione Norris, with guests over the years including Hugh Laurie, Lindsay Duncan, Iain Glen, Sophie Okonedo, Tim Piggott-Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch.

3 Phwoar factor
Looking glam while risking life and limb have been the likes of Keeley Hawes, Richard North, Hermione Norris, Sophia Myles, Rupert Penry-Jones and – for the more sophisticated lady – stoically lovelorn Peter Firth.

4 Absolute shockers
Whether it was Rupert Penry-Jones being blown to smithereens in the opening episode of series seven, admin officer Helen Flynn (Lisa Faulkner) killed by having her face immersed in boiling oil, or data nerd Colin (Rory MacGregor) being strung from a tree by traitorous MI6 agents, Spooks has always known how to make viewers sit up on their sofas.

5 Causing a stink
Helen Flynn’s death caused a wave of complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Commission, but the series sparked a kerfuffle at a higher level when the Chinese government reportedly lost its rag over the way its agents were portrayed as kidnappers, hackers and being ready to blow up London. Apparently, even Israeli intelligence phoned the Beeb to complain about how their operatives were depicted. Touchy.

6 Spookily ahead of the game
Following the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005, Spooks had an uncannily prescient episode ready to air that featured a terrorist bombing central London, including the real-life target of Kings Cross. The BBC considered pulling the show, but eventually settled for displaying a disclaimer warning of distressing content.

7 London
While to many Londoners the capital is a daily grind on the packed Underground or a scary place where people don’t pay for their shopping while leaving department stores through smashed front windows, in Spooks it’s a breathlessly glamorous setting with the camera whizzing across Millennium Bridge, round Canary Wharf and over the Royal Opera House (though some of the off-kilter camera angles can give you headache).

8 BBC Licence fee splashed all over the screen
Spectacular chase scenes, punch-ups, aerial shots and huge explosions – like the one that sent Ros Myers into the next world – made Spooks a tad more expensive than an episode of, say, Saturday Kitchen.

9 A pace that hurtles over gargantuan plot holes
We’ve had Russian submarines launching implausible cyber attacks to send the London financial markets into a tailspin (who needs a cyber attack?), we’ve had two MI5 agents wreaking havoc in the dark on a squad of Mossad hit men equipped with night-vision gear, Lucas going through a complete personality flip-flop to emerge as a traitor, and as for Tariq running a ‘probability algorithm’ and then some facial recognition software through hundreds of London CCTV cameras to pinpoint a foreign infiltrator in seconds… who’d have guessed they can do that?

10 The Trouble with Harry
Like Ken Barlow, Harry’s been there from the beginning, surviving death threats, kidnap, multiple betrayals and disappointment in love. At the end of series nine he was told his actions as head of counter-terrorism were being investigated and he should prepare for life after MI5. It is fitting that the character who has been the backbone of 10 action-packed series should be the focus of the final season. Given the show’s track record of having characters who are secretly traitors, it seems likely  Harry could emerge as Vladimir Putin in a rubber mask. Or that he’ll be killed. Or that he’ll walk off into the sunset with Ruth. Almost anything’s possible in Spooks.

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