Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV
24 April 2024

ITV’s preposterous Red Eye is a bargain-basement Snakes on a Plane 

This jumbo-jet thriller has a just-add-boiling-water feel, as though made from the dried remains of other dramas.

By Rachel Cooke

Picture the scene. In the business class cabin of a shortly-to-depart jumbo jet, all is serene. Travellers here have already stowed their Louis Vuitton in the overhead lockers, and now they look smugly about, content in the knowledge that they’ve at least 10 inches more legroom than the mere mortals who turned right.

And what’s this? Ah, yes, a drink. How nice. “Can I get you started with a beverage?” enquires a steward of a guy who looks somewhat less than happy, perhaps because he is, er, wearing handcuffs. In reply – dear me, the state of him! – the man asks for arsenic, which is really very rude and may mean he’ll get only one bag of the stinky sour cream pretzels that long ago replaced nuts as the designated nibble on aeroplanes.

Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. We’ll remain in this cabin a while yet, for at some point ITV unaccountably elected to commission Red Eye, a six-part thriller set largely in the sky. I’m guessing the series’ writer, Peter A Dowling, likes to fly. How else to explain his attentiveness to such things as special meals (very special in this case) and tautological crew announcements, both of which continue unabated in this deeply strange drama in spite of the fact that by the time the plane is over Budapest (or somewhere: it’s en route to Beijing), a lot of seriously bad stuff has happened. But accurate as it may be, it hardly adds tension. In a way, it’s almost comical. Our stewards, immaculate and robotic, barely turn a hair at the turbulence, which in this case involves not thermal eddies, but mayhem in the aisles, the galley and (especially) the crew rest area.

What we’re dealing with here is a bargain basement Snakes on a Plane (the 2006 movie, starring Samuel L Jackson), the venomous snakes having been replaced by… a suspect vegan dinner. It begins like this. In China, Dr Matthew Nolan (Richard Armitage), a “registered medical practitioner”, is having a little local difficulty after a medical conference at some kind of club. He scarpers, crashes his car, but makes it to the airport anyway, and flies home.

At Heathrow, however, he’s picked up by the authorities and promptly returned to Beijing to stand trial for a crime he says he did not commit (the British government, it seems, cares more about its relationship with China than the safety of one of its citizens). Accompanying him on his return flight is DC Hana Li (Jing Lusi), a copper from the Met, and three of his fellow doctors, who’ve been instructed to return to Beijing as witnesses.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

If this sounds preposterous, it is. Red Eye’s script has a just-add-boiling-water feel, as though it were made from the dried remains of countless other dramas. In London, we meet a top spook, Madeline Delaney (Lesley Sharp in big glasses to make her look clever), whom DC Li will call from the plane once things get hairy. Delaney is having an affair with a colleague, and their assignations take place – I’m not kidding – at the Westminster Lux Hotel.

And there’s a newspaper hack in play, too: Jess Li (Jemma Moore), who not only happens to be our high-flying detective’s sister, but also saw the impromptu speech Dr Nolan made in a Heathrow departure lounge – “I’m innocent!” – on social media, just before he was bundled back on to the plane.

The dialogue is mad, clichéd to the point of meaninglessness. “It’s not strictly in our purview,” says Delaney, of the Nolan case (or something), flapping the cuffs of her shirt, which are as vast as sails, or the duvet in the Westminster Lux Hotel. “Exclusives don’t exactly fall from the sky,” says freelancer Jess, in the moments before one actually does plop straight down into her lap from above, like a dead pigeon (well, almost: the question is, will her sister give her an interview she can sell to the predictably irascible editor of the London Echo?).

Almost every scene is infused with a kind of international blandness, the TV equivalent of wall-to-wall beige, except for the Li family’s suburban dining room, where everyone gathers – of course they do! – to play mahjong on weeknights. My advice? Go doors-to-manual early on this one. Best, perhaps, not even to board the plane.  

Red Eye
ITV1, 28 April, 9pm; available on catch-up

[See also: Tom Hollander’s deliciously nasty Truman Capote]

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action

Topics in this article :

This article appears in the 24 Apr 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Age of Danger