Magazine article The Spectator

Television: National Treasure

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: National Treasure

Article excerpt

The closing credits of National Treasure (Channel 4, Tuesday) contain the usual disclaimer that any resemblance between its characters and real people is merely coincidental. Well, coincidental maybe, but also entirely inevitable -- because this is a drama based on Operation Yewtree.

With its choice of subject matter, a cast including Robbie Coltrane and Julie Walters and a script by Jack Thorne (author of the all-conquering Harry Potter and the Cursed Child ), the series is clearly intended as an Important Piece of Television. Yet, partly for that reason, it's so far proving a rather careful one. Nobody who watched the first episode could accuse it of sensationalism. They might, however, wonder if it occasionally crossed the line dividing the confidently slow-paced from the slightly plodding.

Coltrane plays Paul Finchley, once part of a much-loved double act, these days hosting an afternoon quiz on Channel 4. We first saw Paul backstage at a showbiz event where he was old-school enough to smoke a fag before presenting a Lifetime Achievement Award to his former partner. (Incidentally, the party scene afterwards confirmed that Frank Skinner, while definitely a brilliant comedian, can't even act well enough to play himself convincingly.)

Back home, Paul's anxiety about being past his sell-by date caused him to ask his wife Marie (Walters), 'At what point do comics stop being funny and start being sweet?' But, as it turned out, his immediate fate was far worse than that. The following morning, after he'd spent an apparently routine night watching porn and was having breakfast with his grandchildren, the police arrived to explain that he'd been accused of a rape from 1993. Down at the station, the investigating officer interrogated him in some detail about his sex life -- having first assured him what a huge fan she was. She then told him it might be better if he left by the back door, but not that that was where the press photographers were waiting.

Through all of this, Coltrane did a fine job of impersonating a man impersonating a man who wasn't completely crushed. He also managed the neat trick of somehow seeming to age before our eyes.

Nonetheless, in Tuesday's episode the rape allegation wasn't really the central focus so much as a device that enabled it to provide a series of thoughtful character studies, and to examine how Paul and his family have functioned (or haven't) for years. …

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