'Hijack' review: Soapy thriller is slick, airy fun

'No, no, I swear I'm just trying to keep everyone alive. Definitely not trying to shoot any pervy videos.' Photos: Handout

So this online preview that I read for Hijack, the new seven-episode Idris Elba miniseries, said it would revolve around the hijacking of a passenger airliner on a flight from Dubai to London – with events taking place in real time.

In. Real. Time.


Well, at least the part of my brain that devoured all those seasons of 24 was.

Immediately, visions of Elba sputtering demands for intel in terror suspects' faces, biting through the jugulars of his captors and sawing off corpses' heads for shock value sprang unbidden to my mind. In between shootouts, car chases, defusing bombs and fending off mole incursions, of course.

But Hijack is not that kind of pedal-to-the-metal thrill ride, although its first two episodes (on which this review is solely based) were quite thrilling on their own merits.

For all the ways in which it is dissimilar from 24, though, Hijack is still somewhat like that other in-real-time epic in how it toys with our expectations, surprises us and also hooks us with its unflappable lead character.

Elba is Sam Nelson, a hotshot corporate negotiator so convinced of his abilities that he seems certain he can still reunite with ex-wife Marsha (Christine Adams) – and is in fact on this ill-fated flight home to try and woo her back. (Give it up, dude, Mrs Black Lightning just isn't into you any more.)

So, when hijackers – who all seem to be British, led by the no-nonsense Stuart (Neil Maskell) – take over the plane for reasons still unknown to the audience, Sam steps in to negotiate his way through the terrifying situation.

It's strictly for selfish reasons, he tells Stuart, though you can see he's clearly trying to keep everyone alive no matter what some of the more Karen-ish passengers might think of him.

'This is about all the heavy lifting I get to do in the first two episodes. I really need to call my agent.''This is about all the heavy lifting I get to do in the first two episodes. I really need to call my agent.'

It would be pretty tough to hold viewer attention for seven hours just focusing on events in the plane, however interesting or annoying some of the characters on board may be.

So it's good that Hijack presents some interesting side characters on the ground who are good at their jobs, in honour of that otherwise disposable MI6 agent who fought the villainous muscleman to a near-standstill in The Living Daylights' cheer-worthy kitchen fight scene.

In the first two episodes, these dutiful staffers are mainly air traffic controllers – one in Dubai, the other in London – who suspect something is not right on board Kingdom Airlines Flight 29.

Britain's Counter Terrorism Command gets brought in too, in the form of Archie Panjabi's DCI Zahra Gahfoor, because she happens to be the ex of DI Daniel Farrell (Max Beesley), who heard about the apparent hijack because he is dating Sam's estranged wife, and she received a mysterious message from her (former?) hubby just before all contact was lost.

Yeah, there's a fair amount of soap suds in here too, just like 24. And no mountain lions in sight, thankfully.

'Considering what happens to my face after this phone call, I'd say Archie really should be thanking her agent.''Considering what happens to my face after this phone call, I'd say Archie really should be thanking her agent.'

In the course of weaving their yarn, series creator George Kay (Criminal, Lupin) and director Jim Field Smith (Truth Seekers) largely keep the in-flight focus on Sam and the intriguing long game that he's playing.

How he convinces Stuart to buy into his pitch, and subtly nudges others like Flight Captain Robin Allen (Ben Miles, Andor) to fit into the fabric of his grand plan, left us reassured by the end of the second episode that Sam isn't just peddling a load of bull.

It should be interesting to see how this unlikely protagonist, as far from being a man of action (like Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer) as Sam is from Roland the Gunslinger, holds our interest and bamboozles the bad guys as the rest of this limited series plays out.

By storytelling design and thanks to his charismatic presence, Elba is well and truly the anchor of this sometimes batty ride, which ironically seems more grounded when it's in the air.

New episodes of Hijack arrive every Wednesday on Apple TV+.

7 10


24 o'clock high

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