National Treasure, Episode 4: A wasted opportunity from start to finish

NT4.jpgI concede I don’t know much about English criminal courts, but I’m not sure this is how things usually work. The cross-examination surely isn’t just an opportunity for everyone to deliver extended monologues?

I assumed at the start of this drama that we’d never know for sure whether Paul Finchley’s accusers were telling the truth, but I was wrong. Just in case any viewers were still keeping an open mind in the face of overwhelming evidence that he was a complete wrong ‘un, the flashbacks returned to spell out what had been obvious to everyone else from about 15 minutes into episode one.

Finchley’s team warn him the prosecution lawyer will try to trip him up, but he saves him the bother by donning a pair of metaphorical clown shoes and describing a supposedly consensual encounter with phrases like “I stripped her”. As the grim details unfold, Marie and Dee sit stony-faced.

“I understand shame,” Dee tells him later. “But I’m not sure it’s shame I see from you.” It’s a bit of a curve ball coming from this daddy’s girl, but it’s hard to argue with. It’s not that Robbie Coltrane gave a bad performance per se, but I’m not sure they give BAFTAs for inscrutability. In the final minutes the camera lingered on his face for ages as he searched his house and then garden for Marie, but I failed to detect a single emotion. Was he concerned? Irritated? Angry? Embarrassed?

I had briefly held my breath when he started crying in court and briefly opened his mouth, as if perhaps the enormity of hearing his victim’s raw testimony was enough to elicit a confession, but a scene later he was back to business at usual, talking tactics and then throwing a celebratory party that would have been in poor taste even if he hadn’t just admitted being a total shit.

I also pricked up my ears when the camera left the bedroom where he was telling Dee how much her support meant to him. What was about to happen, and would it finally explain the messed-up Finchley family dynamics? Oh, nothing happened, and I still have no idea. I guess she just went off the rails because she saw her dad kissing the babysitter. Righty ho.

It’s hard to believe this four-parter was written by the excellent Jack Thorne, who has explored dark sexual themes so brilliantly in plays such as Stacey, Bunny and Fanny and Faggot. It would have been great to see him bring to life a much more ambiguous character, and force the audience to ask difficult questions about where the lines are drawn between flirtation, banter, harassment and assault. National Treasure started with a blank-faced villain then threw in everything but the kitchen sink, and the result was an empty, patchy drama with nothing interesting to say.

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One comment

  1. I thought it redeemed it self a lot in the final episode but I do take a lot of your points. Coltrane’s character never seemed particularly National Treasur-ey at any point. I never had trouble believing that he might be the sleazebag he was alleged to be…

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