National Treasure

Hot button topics don’t come much hotter than the subject of Channel 4’s edgy new drama, in which a well-loved celebrity faces accusations of historic sexual abuse. Though obviously it’s still not as controversial as the channel’s decision to buy a baking show.

Robbie Coltrane plays Paul Finchley, one half of a celebrated comedy double act whose ex-partner (Tim McInnerny) has gone on to even greater glory, while he splashes around in the shallow waters of the daytime quiz circuit. He dutifully trots out the old catchphrases for cabbies, and takes the applause where he can find it – such as presenting a Lifetime Achievement award to his former oppo. (‘It’s the Stalin thing,’ he grimaces. ‘No-one wants to be the first to stop clapping the old guard.’)

For all that, it’s a comfortable life for Paul and wife Marie (actual national treasure Julie Walters) - until the day he’s accused of raping a colleague on the set of a film in the 90s, opening the floodgates to a rush of similar allegations, including at least one of assaulting a minor.

The film doesn’t shrink from portraying the unlovely reality behind the family entertainer facade, including Paul’s predilection for prostitutes and certain niche websites. Nor does it swerve the elephant in the room, as Paul twice invokes the ghost of Jimmy Savile. But is he a predatory sex offender? So far, writer Jack Thorne isn’t saying – though it’s clear Marie has her doubts about standing by her man.

Coltrane and Walters are reliably excellent, of course, but the standout performance comes from the fabulous Andrea Riseborough as their damaged, medicated daughter Dee; her stream-of-consciousness monologue about a disturbing fever-dream involving her father, in particular, was extraordinary.

Thorne’s script is beautifully served by director Marc Munden, who maroons Coltrane in the shadows of the Finchleys' vast home, only for the oppressive silence to be shattered every time the angry buzz of the doorbell brings Paul some fresh new hell.

Hell, let’s remember, that may be well deserved, and long overdue. Justice or witch-hunt? National Treasure is deliberately ambiguous on its central charge, which makes this a potentially divisive but undeniably brave piece of television.

 

TV extra:

 

Hooten & the Lady

Sky’s new action comedy about a pair of mismatched treasure hunters feels like a lost artefact from another time – specifically, the early 1980s, when Indiana Jones inspired a rush of copycat wisecracking adventurers. This one, teaming Ophelia Lovibond’s blue-blood British Museum historian with Michael Landes’ roguish American adventurer, owes its greatest debt to Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner’s Romancing the Stone. The fact it’s a British production only makes it more puzzling that such a thing should exist in 2016, but it’s enjoyable enough hokum, all the same.

 

Get Shirty

This delightful documentary told how Admiral, a small underwear factory in Leicester, created the global replica football kit industry almost by accident. It was full of great stories – like the time, in their opening match of the 1982 World Cup in Spain, the polyester-clad England team sweated away a collective six stones. Sadly, when the big boys from Adidas and Puma moved in, there was no longer a place for the sort of business that offered a free hairdo to its machinist of the week (and a perm on rollover weeks).

Published in Waitrose Weekend, September 22 2016

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