No two ways about it, National Treasure is uncomfortable viewing.
This four part Channel 4 drama is not just inspired by the UK’s Operation Yewtree, it actually mentions Jimmy Saville in its narrative.
At the centre of this fictional drama is Paul Finchley (Robbie Coltrane) is one half of a much loved British comedy double act. He is depicted as a daytime quiz host for Channel 4 but his life is turned upside down when police come knocking on his door. Facing a search warrant and two counts of sexual assault, each some 20 years previous, life will never be the same for Finchley.
“They think I’m Jimmy f***ing Saville,” he will later say.
Showing public support is wife Marie (Julie Walters), but behind closed doors her world is rocked to the core and doubts play on her mind. Having chosen to overlook the times her husband has come home smelling of someone else’s perfumes she warns him, “This is not one of those times.”
Daughter Dee (Andrea Risborough) and longtime comedy partner Karl (Tim McInnery) also stand by the veteran comedian. But doubts persist.
Even watching the police at work makes for awkward viewing with the arresting officer telling Finchley she is “a big fan by the way” before interrogating him over rape allegations. Eww. But lawyer Jerome (Babou Ceesay) warns his client about giving out information, resulting in a string of “no comment” replies.
The whole art-imitates-life teleplay is made all the more compelling by its portrayals of a ruthless Fleet Street press, Channel 4 executive meetings (I note it’s definitely not the BBC) and even an awards night with Alan Carr as host.
Writer Jack Thorne (The Last Panthers, This is England 90, Glue, Skins, The Fades, Shameless) plays with doubts in the viewer’s mind too, by portraying Finchley as a flawed, wayward husband -but does that make him guilty? And at what point were these emotions also felt by those involved in other profile cases, such as Rolf Harris or Cliff Richard -the latter notably exonerated by police.
Having actors of the calibre of Robbie Coltrane and Julie Walters also makes this compelling viewing. Coltrane is distractingly fragile on screen but his performance is full of life and numerous shades of grey. Julie Walters again packs a punch as a woman questioning loyalty and who is thrown into the spotlight due to the actions of her husband. They suck us into the vortex of a world under enormous pressure. Thorne’s script allows for plenty of acting chops.
Airing quickly after its UK broadcast (late September), National Treasure is a searing, dark anatomy of a celebrity fall from grace and how it ricochets like a bullet amongst the innocent bystanders. Don’t miss it.
National Treasure airs 8:30pm Thursday on ABC.