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Spy story with SA twist will excite original fans & newcomers

The series adaption of the action-packed Alex Rider may have locals loving to hate Dr Grief, the racist villain with plans to take over the world
Thu, Oct 22, 2020

The Alex Rider series adaptation is now streaming on Showmax. PHOTOS: Showmax

Among present or former avid readers of Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series, Season 1 of the recently-released screen adaptation is likely to be a hit.

An adaptation of Point Blanc, the second book, this season should resonate with SA viewers: the villain, Dr Hugo Grief (played here by Turkish actor Haluk Bilginer), is a racist white South African with a plan for world domination.

The book, released in 2001, made more explicit mention of Dr Grief's apartheid nostalgia than the TV series does. Perhaps this is a sign of the times as much as anything else. Apartheid was fresher in the world’s memory then than it is now and this is a UK-based series marketed to a global audience.

Nevertheless, even on screen, Dr Grief is the type of unsavoury character which many will recognise, as is his Dean of Students, Eva Stellenbosch (played by Romanian Ana Ularu). Admittedly, the lack of thick South African accents is one minor disappointment

Although Horowitz did his best to link the Alex Rider novels to real-world events, readers will most likely remember the series for spy gadgets and high-octane chases, above all else.

At times, he applied a fair degree of artistic license to some of Alex’s heroic escapades. They may have been thrilling on paper, but they cannot have been easy to adapt to screen.

To creator Guy Burt and his team’s credit, the TV series does a stellar job of keeping these scenes somewhat realistic without detracting from the excitement. In particular, Alex’s escape from his captors down a mountain on makeshift snowboards will excite viewers.

As Lucy Mangan wrote for The Guardian, it feels at times as if Burt and co. are attempting a balancing act between attracting younger viewers and keeping the eyeballs of older former fans of the book series. This, they pulled off with some degree of success, although they may yet decide to fine-tune their target market based on initial responses.

Where they did a particularly impressive job was in making Alex and those closest to him appear fallible and, therefore, relatable. There are times when Alex (Otto Farrant), best friend Tom Harris (Brenock O'Connor) and guardian Jack Starbright (Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo) struggle to distinguish between who they can and cannot trust in the murky world of MI6 (British Secret Intelligence Services).

At the end of the first season, viewers are introduced to Scorpia, Alex Rider's main enemy from the books. For those who are not familiar with the full series, the conclusion will leave more questions than answers. For Rider diehards, it will likely leave plenty of excitement.

Although the script from the books was not followed to a tee, it appears that after an impressive debut season, there is yet more to come on screen of the young man known widely as the "teenage James Bond".

  • Alex Rider is available to stream on Showmax