Robbie Coltrane and Julie Walters on their dark sex-scandal drama
he fallout from police enquiries into historic sexual offences has rocked the nation in recent years, after shocking allegations about some famous faces.
Now, the impact of this type of challenging investigation is explored in C4’s gripping new four-part drama National Treasure, which centres on fictional comedian Paul Finchley, played by Robbie Coltrane, and his wife Marie (Julie Walters). Paul has been a well-loved part of the showbiz world for decades, as
Tone half of a comedy double act, and is now the genial host of a teatime quiz. But his life and career are left in tatters when the police knock on his door and he’s accused of raping a young woman in the 1990s. ‘The first episode is not about whether he did or didn’t do it, it’s about what it would be like for any of us if somebody came to the door and said you had raped somebody 20 years ago,’ Robbie, 66, tells
TV Times. ‘Your life falls off a cliff, whether you did it or not, so he’s a man at the end of his tether and is totally humiliated.
‘You have to imagine what it would be like to have 20 guys with cameras at the bottom of your garden, tabloids talking rubbish and people spitting at you. But it gets more and more ambiguous, dark and strange as it moves on. I think viewers’ opinions will keep shifting all the way through.’
Former Cracker star Robbie, who confesses he went straight to the end of the script to find out if Paul was guilty, jumped at the chance to work with Julie again. They crossed paths fleetingly in the Harry Potter films, in which they played lovable giant Hagrid and spirited Mrs Weasley.
‘We did two scenes together but we didn’t hang out and we haven’t
Harry Potter worked together properly before,’ reveals Robbie. ‘It was a joy to have two weeks’ rehearsals before National Treasure, to work out what Paul and Marie’s relationship was like.’
The couple’s marriage is at the heart of the drama. As dark secrets from the past emerge, the investigation has a huge impact on deeply religious Marie, who decides, at least publicly, to stand by her husband. The case also has a traumatic effect on their troubled daughter Dee (Andrea Riseborough), a recovering drug addict, and their young grandchildren.
‘These cases have been a big part of our current affairs for the last few years,’ says Julie, 66. ‘But it’s always the wife that makes me think, “Gosh, I want to know about her”. It would be an awful, heart-shattering thing.
‘I find women like her fascinating. Marie is quite conservative, she has
her own problems and her daughter is wayward, so they have a difficult relationship, but she’s a very kind woman and I admire her strength.’
Julie admits, though, that she found it hard to accept why Marie has stayed with Paul for so long.
‘You do think, “How can she be with him?” Whether he’s done this or not, a string of infidelities have gone on throughout their life. If it was me, he would be out the door – I can’t bear any kind of lying – but Marie’s not like that, so it was really interesting to do.
‘She stands by him because she loves him. Also, as a Catholic, she believes in the sanctity of marriage and she wants to keep the family together. She depends on her religious faith and her faith in him. Although she knows he has slept with lots of people, she sees it as a weakness in him that she can tolerate – but what he’s now accused of is very different…’
As the case grows ever more harrowing, the drama – which also features cameos from Robert Webb, Frank Skinner and Alan Carr – explores the difficulties involved in investigating crimes that are alleged to have taken place decades earlier.
‘The cops call these, “He said, she said” crimes, because there were only two people there and one of them is telling the truth and one of them isn’t,’ says Robbie, who wonders whether those accused of such crimes should be given anonymity until they are proven guilty.
‘If you publish the guy’s name, other people will come forward and there’s more chance of a conviction. People who are innocent should be protected but people who have been abused must be protected more.
‘The question is, what kind of culture was going on that people like Jimmy Savile got away with it for as long as he did? But the way that technology and social media are now, hopefully it won’t happen again – we all hope that you couldn’t get away with it today.’
National Treasure TUESDAY / C4 / 9.00Pm marie Finchley Julie Walters
Paul’s loyal wife has always stood by him, despite his flaws, but will this case prove
too much for her? Robbie and Julie met briefly in
paul Finchley Robbie Coltrane The veteran entertainer is shocked when he’s accused of raping a young woman in the 1990s. His private life then comes under
intense scrutiny Is Paul guilty? and will his wife and daughter stand by him? Dee Finchley Andrea Riseborough
The Finchleys’ daughter, a mother of two, is a recovering drug addict. The accusations against her father cause
her fresh turmoil The constant media frenzy takes its toll
She stands by him because she loves him