‘They think I’m fucking Jimmy Saville,’ says Paul Finchley (Robbie Coltrane) when he’s arrested for rape.
A writer could have a lot of fun with this four-part series, as I’m sure Jack Thorne does. The litmus test for National Treasure is whether the named and shamed celebrity such as Jimmy Saville, Rolf Harris or indeed our very own Cliff (although the tabloids are playing coy on that one) was allowed to hob-nob with the Royals and had Prince Charles, or poor old Diana, on speed-dial or Messenger. Oscar Wilde, who knows a thing or two about how fickle celebrity was, tended to rattle on about: ‘All that I desire to point out is the general principle that Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.’
Thorne sets up the before and after of the celebrity death spiral. I was a bit confused at first. Viewers see Finchley hobbling with a walking stick behind a glamourous lady host in evening dress, in what to me looked like cells in a prison, and because I knew the nub of the story, I thought this was him getting jailed, with possibly some kind of hallucinatory episode. But it was more prosaic and simply the backstage setting of a London theatre. Finchley was shown hyperventilating before he went onstage to present a lifetime achievement award to his comedy partner and he deadpans, in all seriousness, that it wasn’t him getting the award and that wasn’t fair. Nobody loves him, but of course they do, they just love his partner more, but he’s still in the business, with a daytime quiz show and his agent is still trying to cut deals with the big hitters. This is the before.
Before anything happens normality is a big house in London, but not too big, he still bumps into his neighbour taking his bin out. The grandkids are bickering and his wife, Marie (Julie Walters) is keeping an eye on them. Later, we learn he’s been cheating on her for years, and she’s shown to be a religious maniac because she says the Hail Mary and prays. Finchley when he stays the night with a prostitute laments Marie’s loss of beauty and gives us a Wildean epigram about women being beautiful in a way that men never are. Quite so old boy, quite so, hide all the mirrors.
Now we are in the after territory, all that’s gone before changes shape. In particular, when Finchley visits his beautiful but troubled daughter, Dee (Andrea Riseborough) she rambles on about a dream, or vision, she had about her Dad and her husband, which makes you think that the trouble with the daughter, may be dad. Incest. Finchley seems keen to establish that she’s got the money he sent her for her keep . But this may be the red herring.
Bang, bang, bang it goes and ends with a bang, with police trawling for other cases and finding them. One of them being the baby sitter, which pisses off even the saintly, or dim, Marie, depending on what point of view you take to her wifely duties. Finchley said he didn’t do it. Does anybody believe him? The real scoop would be if he does, indeed, prove to be innocent. Somehow, I doubt it, there’s more chance of getting ten minutes of drama without a break for adverts.