National Treasure, Episode 1: Robbie Coltrane fails to convince

national-treasure-1THE problem I have with this drama, about a well-loved celebrity accused of rape post-Yewtree, is that I just don’t buy Robbie Coltrane as a comedian turned quiz show host.

Paul Finchley is no Bob Monkhouse or Les Dawson, and maybe that’s deliberate – after all, it would be unfair to besmirch the reputation of any actual performer by stealing their style. But the party piece Finchley duly performs for a taxi driver doesn’t feel like a well-loved catchphrase, and the opening scene in which he presents a lifetime achievement award to his comedy partner gets things off to an odd start.

I’d hoped we’d have a bit of time to get to know him before the police came knocking, but we’d barely met his wife and grandchildren before they arrived with their search warrant. And while I appreciate that officers are viewers too, and potentially just as dazzled by celebrity as anyone else, the interrogator chipping in that she was a “big fan” stretched credibility.

At times it feels as though writer Jack Thorne isn’t aiming for naturalism – the hotshot young lawyer and boyish TV executives are little more than caricatures – but the quieter scenes of Finchley with his long-suffering wife Marie (Julie Walters) and loyal partner Karl (Tim McInnerney) feel like part of a deeper exploration of loyalty, love and faith.

I didn’t really know what to make of the couple’s daughter Danielle, who’s living in a “halfway” house having lost custody of her kids and clearly has a complicated relationship with her father, who barely allows her to get a sentence out interrupted before she regales him with a disturbing story that she presents as an account of a dream.

Clearly the aim is to keep the audience guessing about exactly what Finchley has done, although the violent pornography, “unsubtle” infidelity and implied use of prostitutes aren’t painting a very loveable picture, and the claim by the detective working for his legal team that the accusers are seeking money or attention is the usual illogical straw-grasping. As the allegations mount up – including several of sexual assault by the family’s former babysitter – the viewer is denied the opportunity to scrutinise the reaction of the accused. Is his apparent disbelief genuine, a performance, or an expression of surprise that he’s being held to account?

It will be interesting to see how much this actually matters. Perhaps the show will prove to be more about the journey than the destination. If everyone could decide what accent they’re doing and stick to it from now on, it’ll be a more enjoyable ride.

UK readers can watch National Treasure via 4OD.

Notes

What was the significance of the police activity Finchley saw during his journey in the police car? Was that just a coincidence? Or a figment of his imagination?

Other reviews

The Telegraph

The Guardian

What did you think? Comment below!

 

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