The Brits have a long tradition of high quality mystery and thriller stories, both in fiction, on the stage, and on television and film, going back to Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle and before. The producers of Kidnap and Ransom continue on with that august tradition, even while giving the genre a unique twist of their own.
Instead of the normal police detective or private investigator, Kidnap and Ransom revolves around the exploits of a team of hostage negotiators, led by the indefatigable Dominic King (Trevor Eve). Along with his business partner Angela (Helen Baxendale) and assistant Carrie (Amara Karan), Dominic eschews involvement with the police, and does his best to get kidnap victims returned to their families unharmed. Though his relationship with his wife Sophie and daughter Tess (Natasha Little and Laura Greenwood) suffers at times because of it, Dominic is fiercely devoted to his job and his clients.
Series 1 and Series 2 are both included in their entirety here, each with three episodes. The show is as much about the personalities and interactions of the hostage negotiation team and their families and clients as it is about procedure and thrills. But there are thrills aplenty. While very much grounded in reality and not the extreme and implausible action of a 24 or Taken, the show still manages to build and maintain a high level of tension while serving up a delightful buffet of twists, double crosses and shootouts. All the characters are presented quite realistically, with the dividing line of good and evil running through every human heart, as Solzhenitsyn says. The "good guys" are often quite flawed, self-centered, and unable to connect emotionally. The "bad guys" are likewise often confused, or desperate, or even simply greedy, yet they're kind and loyal to their family and dedicated to honor. Kidnap and Ransom doesn't deal in black and whites, but it does wrestle with the inherent contradictions and moral ambiguities of hostage negotiation business, and the basic humanity of everyone involved.
Below are episode descriptions, as included on the discs:
Series 1, Episode 1
A pair of street thugs nabs British scientist Naomi Shaffer in South Africa and issue an impossible demand: $2 million for her release. Hounded by a South African Inspector and his own self-doubt, Dominic quickly discovers that coming up with the cash is the least of his problems.
Series 1, Episode 2
Joined by Inspector Lanning, Dominic unearths clues about the second kidnapping gang. Does the group's urbane ringleader, Willard, want ransom or something more valuable? Dominic's pursuit of the case threatens to estrange him from his wife, Sophie, and daughter, Tess.
Series 1, Episode 3
Danger follows Naomi's family back to England after her daughter, Sally, is kidnapped by Willard's gang. As Dominic struggles to heal his broken family, the police bungle the case with shocking results. Working alone to save the girl, Dominic learns that Willard isn't his only adversary.
Series 2, Episode 1
When two gun-wielding kidnappers storm a bus filled with tourists on a busy Kashmir street, Dominic must diffuse the hostage situation before police snipers unleash a surge of bloodshed. Can the master negotiator overcome meddling from the local police and demands from trigger-happy hijackers?
Series 2, Episode 2
Negotiations break down in a hail of gunfire after the hostage takers learn that one of the captives is the daughter of a powerful government figure. A chase through the city pushes the lives of two hostages to the edge, and Dominic makes a shocking discovery.
Series 2, Episode 3
As Dominic unravels the unlikely past of one of the captors, he discovers that a third kidnapper is calling the shots from the shadows. The home office deals to release only one hostage, but Dominic has more ambitious plans: a final showdown that could free them all... or leave them dead.
Kidnap and Ransom stays within the basic confines of the crime drama, but expands beyond them both stylistically and thematically. It's a refreshing perspective, and is executed quite well. The performances are uniformly excellent, with Trevor Eve leading the way with his conflicted and damaged, but fundamentally good negotiator. John Hannah guest stars and quite easily slips into the villain role. All of the guest stars and small players are workmanlike and reliable, pitching in their bit toward making an exceptional series. There's nary a missed cue or flubbed line to be seen.
Visually, the producers aren't afraid to be a bit stylized, with odd cuts and a constantly moving camera, reminiscent of Tony Scott's look in such films as Man on Fire and Domino. In fact, the show looks much more like a film than a television series, an intentional choice made by the producers and discussed in some of the extra material. The show looks very good, and time and effort was expended to make the visuals as well as the story and performances compelling.
Kidnap and Ransom isn't the typical crime drama, but it is very engaging and often original without being too abstract or impenetrable. It's a taut, exciting thriller of a series, with winning performances and intelligent storylines. Highly recommended.
The video is 1.78:1, and looks quite good. The image is crisp, and the colors are smooth and rich, with a wide color palette. The series has a very stylized look, with some mild shaky cam work that's not too distracting.
The audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and works well. The dialogue is always clearly audible, and no hiss or other problem can be heard. English subtitles are included, but no alternate language track.
There are a few extras included, but nothing terribly significant. They are:
Interview with Trevor Eve
At just over ten minutes, this is a fairly interesting interview with Trevor Eve, who produced the series as well as starred. He talks about various things, such as working with John Hannah, and the research that was done with actual hostage negotiators, as well as the desire to make the show as film-like as possible.
Introduction by Writher Michael Crompton
This is an all text intro by writer Michael Crompton, talking about the various real world events that were the inspiration for Series 2.
Also all text, this is a short list of kidnap related statistics.
Kidnap and Ransom is a very good show, and continues the tradition of high quality British crime drama on television. It has its own unique perspective, and this adds to the interest, but it's the tight plotting and great performances that really make the show work. Each series is a self-contained story, wound tight with tension and bursting with thrills. This is how television should be: intelligent and fun.