Robbie’s new drama looks a real Cracker
The term ‘national treasure’ is bandied around a lot these days - it seems to be applied to anyone who has been on TV at any point in the past 50 years - but Robbie Coltrane is arguably more deserving of the status than most.
The Bafta-winning actor has appeared in everything from Cracker to the Harry Potter movies, and now he’s back in this highly anticipated, and very topical four-part drama National Treasure (Tuesday, Channel 4, 9pm) , playing the (fictional) much-loved comedian Paul Finchley.
Robbie explains: “He’s been part of a double act that’s been going for 30-odd years who, in their younger days, were incredibly successful. They had their own TV show and did sketches. And they are both kind of viewed as national treasures - they’re kind of like Morecambe and Wise or any of those other double acts that people love.”
However, Paul could be about to experience a very public fall from grace when he is accused of a historical sexual offence that dates back to the 1990s. Hedenies ever having met the woman making the allegation, but his wife Marie (another national treasure contender, Julie Walters) has to decide whether to stand by him, and his troubled daughter Dee (Andrea Riseborough) starts to question her relationship with him.
Coltrane adds: “The first episode, I think, is very interesting, because there’s no hint in it at all of whether he did it or not. And also, whether he did it or not is not what it’s about. It’s about ‘What would it be like if it happened to you, or anybody else.’”
And Paul’s situation becomes more difficult when the media gets involved, which leads to one of the dilemmas at the heart of the series( and the real-life cases which have helped to inspire it) - does naming suspects lead to trial in the court of public opinion, or is it a way of encouraging victims to come forward?
As Robbie says, there are no easy answers :“In the programme, my character does this interview with Victoria Derbyshire. Finchley’s argument is ‘Why does this have to be done in public?’ And she says ‘Well, what do you think? Should the law be protecting the wrongfully accused, or those who have actually been abused? Because that’s your choice.’ And it is the choice. It’s a real moral dilemma.”
In fact, the subject matter is so controversial, it seems some people were surprised the actor signed up for it all. He says: “I got this script and I thought ‘Oh yes!’ A lot of people said ‘Don’t touch it, Rob, it’s poisonous, it’s not going to do you any good.’ It’s pretend!”
Robbie says: “I believe with all my soul that it’s the job of drama to deal with things that the judiciary’s not very good at, the police aren’t very good at, the politicians aren’t very good at, the civil service aren’t very good at...
“A lot of people said that about Cracker. ‘Why would you want to make an entertaining show about people getting murdered ?’ It’s not about entertainment, it’s about finding out how people get like that. That’s what the whole show is about.”