As a child reader, the two most thrilling manners of death in my mind were sinking in quicksand – thank you, Enid Blyton - and falling down a lift shaft. So imagine my delight when an early scene in Alex Rider (Amazon Prime Video) featured a man stepping through the doors of a lift and… whoops, there he goes!
Amazon has turned Anthony Horowitz’s best-selling books about a teenage secret agent into a pacey romp, far superior to the 2006 film. It’s slick and stylish, bringing the stories up-to-date with smartphones and cybertechnology while sticking to the spirit of Boy’s Own adventures. Alex can pick locks with a paperclip - I’m sure that’s another Famous Five trick. The target market is teenagers but it avoids a children’s TV feel - albeit the torture scenes stick to drenching Alex in cold water and bombarding him with death metal while he’s tied to a chair, rather than anything more gruesome.
Alex, played by Otto Farrant (23 years old but a pretty convincing teenager), is an orphan who lives with his “boring banker” uncle (Andrew Buchan of Broadchurch fame) and caring housekeeper (Ronke Adekoluejo). Except it turns out that Uncle Ian was actually a spy, whose murder in episode one leads to Alex being recruited by the shadowy arm of the intelligence agency and getting Line of Duty’s Vicky McClure as his handler. As a reference point for a modern audience, it’s neat that Alex discovers the truth about his uncle by using a Find My Phone app.
Alex is tasked with infiltrating Point Blanc, a sinister Alpine academy for the offspring of billionaires. We don’t see him get there until mid-way through the series. Before that point, Alex has to go through training, although he already has some handy fight skills and can scale buildings with ease, while also doing normal schoolboy stuff: hanging out with his beanie-hatted best friend and trying to chat to girls.
The show is made for a global audience but makes good use of its London locations, from cherry tree-lined streets to housing estates and an obligatory shot of the Shard, rather than being generic. With its chase scenes and interrogations, it’s a junior version of the Bourne franchise, but one that can also keep adults entertained.