New Year’s Drama on the Beeb – Hard Sun and McMafia (TV Review)

A ‘hamfatter’, often shortened to ‘ham’, is a term originating from the nineteenth century used to refer to an overacting performer or actor of low grade.

When Hard Sun began I was initially impressed by its sleek production, its minimalist scenery, its sexy camera swoops and its debuting supermodel actress Agyness Deyn. Then came the dreaded ‘second episode’ and, like the second album of a smash hit music artist, everything went to pot, and it suddenly dawned on me this is a hamfatter of a show.

A government scientist has discovered that the sun is going to explode, or consume the earth, or a solar flare will ravage the surface of the planet. This will happen in five years time and when it does everyone will die.

DCI Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess) and DI Elaine Renko (Deyn) have stumbled on this piece of information and are now targets for a mysterious arm of the government who wants to eliminate them and keep the fact a secret to avoid civil meltdown.

Sturgess is the primary culprit of hamfatting. Constantly acting overly-guilty, speaking like Neo in the Matrix, and at the peak of each story arc he blows his top off screaming and shouting and scrunching up his face to make his eyes water.

Deyn does better. She plays the mild mannered almost supernaturally aware Renko who, in what seems to be just thrown in the mix for the hell of it along with the earth being vaporised, is the mother of a rape child. Deyn holds her own against Sturgess and any emotional feeling in the show comes primarily from her.

Hard Sun plays out like a bog standard detective mystery with its ‘unique hook’ being this bizarre apocalypse scenario hanging about in the background. The most awkward of elephants to have in the room and one which is a real stretch for the BBC effects department to depict. Global catastrophe on taxpayer’s money? I don’t buy it. Leaving me with a feeling that everything I see on the show is, just, a bit silly.

But I’ll keep watching. Mainly for the dramatic orchestral soundtrack constantly played in the background. It draws me in, like having a pause in time to lie down and listen to a piece of classical music. One of Beethoven’s symphonies he wrote at his most angriest.

McMafia does not hamfat. It’s actually very good. Edward Norton plays Alex Godman, the son and heir to the fortunes of the Godman family, the Russian mongrels trying to move away from their corrupt past and into their squeaky clean British future.

Godman is caught in a turbulent transition, running a legitimate investment firm which is about to be made to trawl through the underworld upon his uncle’s desire to dethrone the criminal kings of the Russian mafia.

The show, like Hard Sun, is exceptionally slick. The difference between the two is the McMafia story runs better. It’s smoother being free of having to carry around this awkward clunk of a feature called apocalism.

The only chink I see in McMafia’s impenetrable Ruski armour is it’s essentially one hour watching meetings. I mean, how exciting are meetings? Really? But it seems to work. I’m hooked. And, as has been widely documented already, McMafia is not just a show, but James Norton’s eight hour audition for Bond.

At first I guffawed at the idea of the virginal Norton becoming the renowned gentlemen spy. But now, having thought about it, and considering Ian Jame’s original conception for Bond was to be a gentlemen first, the eloquent Norton might be just the ticket after the rough handling weathered faced Liverpool supporting James Bond of Craigs’. Cc. ‘Me Too’ campaign – anything but Jane Bond.

Catch up on Hard Sun and McMafia on BBC iPlayer.