 Euan Ferguson’s ver­dict on a bril­liant week for BBC drama

It’s a hat-trick for the BBC, with three su­perb new dra­mas ex­plor­ing wealth, cor­rup­tion, es­pi­onage and bloody his­tory

The Observer - The New Review - - Agenda - Euan Ferguson

Hope you had a just dandy and howdy-doody sum­mer but are now firmly camped, legs tucked, in front of the screen, be­cause last week was most prob­a­bly the high-water mark for new drama this year. More im­por­tantly, hope you’ve paid your li­cence fee: three of the best came cour­tesy of the BBC. Ap­par­ently mil­len­ni­als are shun­ning the Beeb in their squil­lions, just as they snub hang­overs, fights and know­ing how to change a tyre. They’ll rue… some of that, one day.

Trust opened stylishly, as one might have ex­pected from a duo with the pedi­gree of Si­mon Beau­foy and Danny Boyle: a sunny, swimmy man­sion high in the Hol­ly­wood hills, gauzy with the im­pos­si­ble dream of California, 1973. As we pan un­der and through the pool, through the party, to a man killing him­self with a bar­be­cue fork, the strains of Pink Floyd’s Money cash-reg­is­ter them­selves into our con­scious­ness. It is only as Dick Parry’s sax solo kicks in (and the tines pierce flesh) that we re­alise the band fleet­ingly glimpsed were, surely, meant to be Pink Floyd them­selves, for this is Danny Boyle, not above that nice kind of nod, but, more im­por­tantly, this was Getty money.

Ge­orge, the sui­cidee, was the el­dest son of J (Jean) Paul Getty, who in 1957 was named the rich­est liv­ing Amer­i­can. In this lush, sly 10-part adap­ta­tion, Getty is played by Don­ald Suther­land, which means within min­utes you won’t be­lieve he could ever have been played by any­one else. This pa­tri­arch lives as par­si­mo­nious a life as one can in a Surrey man­sion with a harem of girl­friends and a li­on­ess (and a pay­phone), and scrib­bles stingily in a note­book when the Times goes up by tup­pence, and rails against his druggy, wastrel and wasted brood. Few can dis­pense the line “per­fumed fuck­ing wasters” with such de­spair­ing scorn as Suther­land’s twisted, hon­eyed Cana­dian mouth.

The story, when it gets go­ing proper, will be nom­i­nally about the kid­nap­ping of the flaky grand­son, John Paul III, a tale long mired in con­spir­acy, triple bluff, mafia dou­ble-deal­ing and the twin cyn­i­cisms of in­ter­na­tional oil and pol­i­tics, but at heart it’s all re­ally a tale (a la Suc­ces­sion) of the hope­less dys­func­tion that squalid wealth can im­pose on a fam­ily and all those around them. It’s chic, fun and bru­tal, im­mensely watch­able – and we haven’t yet got to Getty père’s se­cu­rity supre­mocum-fixer, the ex-CIA man James Fletcher Chace, sent to Rome to ne­go­ti­ate with the kid­nap­pers. One­time heart-throb Bren­dan Fraser plays him glo­ri­ously, all good-Ol’ Tes­ta­ment wrath coiled in­side im­mense south­ern bon­homie. It’s

The women rip up our screens of a Satur­day evening and hand them back to us, laugh­ing

like watch­ing a boy-band ex­ile sud­denly all grown-up, hefty, and singing like Si­na­tra.

Fi­nally, too, we have some­thing to stay in for on Satur­day nights. We’ve waited long enough, and I am de­lighted to re­port it’s been more than worth the wait. More than de­lighted: proud, by proxy; for Killing Eve, cre­ated by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, comes orig­i­nally from the Co­de­name Vil­lanelle novel­las of Luke Jen­nings, whom you’ll find on page 41 in his other life as the Ob­server’s dance critic.

With all that, the sainted Fleabag cre­ator and an es­teemed col­league, it would have been… tricky had I hated it. I didn’t. I didn’t, with pas­sion, and dry laugh­ter, and de­light. Killing Eve has a (at first sight) frumpy, bored MI5 deskjock, the sub­lime San­dra Oh, pit­ted against one of the finest cre­ations in mod­ern thriller es­pi­onage, the im­pos­si­bly chic, needy, sav­agely psy­cho­pathic Paris-based as­sas­si­ness (I know we don’t nor­mally do gen­dered pro­fes­sions, but in this case as­sas­si­ness is sweetly ap­po­site) Vil­lanelle. We have Jodie Comer as Vil­lanelle, ut­terly lov­able, ut­terly un­for­giv­able – ob­sid­ian heart meets cochineal frip­pery – and, when she and Oh’s Eve Po­las­tri lock horns across con­ti­nents it’s go­ing to be a love-hate duel, sto­icism and fury and mu­tual at­trac­tion, and seafresh wit and pulse-fresh gore. And, gen­er­ally, an ab­sence of men: David Haig is great, as is Kim Bod­nia (how lovely to see Martin from The Bridge back), but, in gen­eral, the women (Fiona Shaw’s there too) rip up our screens of a Satur­day evening and hand them back to us, laugh­ing. I want to tell you not to binge-watch – the whole se­ries is avail­able now through BBC Three – but don’t have the stony heart. Snowflake, me.

All this (plus Body­guard! And is she re­ally dead?) for 41p a day – and we haven’t even got to Black Earth Ris­ing, Hugo Blick’s mag­is­te­ri­ally grown-up war-crimes out­ing, unashamedly po­lit­i­cal. It might best be de­scribed not as a thriller or a drama, but as a brain-trem­bler. As al­ways with Blick, it makes you think, and leads you to no easy an­swers. On the sur­face it’s an eth­i­cal dilemma: should lawyer Eve Ashby (the ever-fine Har­riet Wal­ter) take on the pros­e­cu­tion of a Rwan­dan “crim­i­nal” – he ended much of the geno­cide, is counted as a hero, but has since traded in blood di­a­monds and child sol­diers – or, as is urged by friends and fam­ily, con­sign his­tory to his­tory. Wal­ter plays Eve as a woman who has drunk too long at the fount of in­tel­li­gence and longs for the sweet, sober so­lace of em­pa­thy, il­logic, vic­tim­hood, lack of rigour, sub­jec­tive learn­ing.

Her daugh­ter, Kate, a Rwan­dan adoptee, is played by Michaela Coel, who dom­i­nates ev­ery scene in which she ap­pears – with looks, with cheek­bones, with flashy anger, with hurt, with caus­tic yet un­de­ni­able love for her unlov­able mother, who in­sists on see­ing the past ob­jec­tively. This is as about as good as po­lit­i­cal drama will ever get: it’s sear­ingly fine, yes, but obliges us also to con­front hugely vex­a­tious dilem­mas. What is the in­ter­na­tional war crimes court for? And should there be African so­lu­tions for African prob­lems?

In the face of all last week’s fine drama, John Simm, de­spite be­ing John Simm, stood lit­tle chance with a clunkily writ­ten visit to Hong Kong to at­tempt to track down, in Strangers, his big­a­mous, pos­si­bly dead, wife. Or is she? Hmm. Hey-ho. Pass the beer nuts.

Sim­i­larly, Matthew Goode and Owen Teale, both bags-of-char­ac­ter ac­tors with mag­netic faces, ap­pear to be slum­ming it, a lit­tle, in Sky’s

A Dis­cov­ery of Witches. This re­work­ing of Deb­o­rah Hark­ness’s books is ab­so­lutely grand, as far as it goes. It fea­tures an un­will­ing witch, the fiery new Aussie Teresa Palmer, and Ox­ford, and vam­pires. It’ll do splen­didly un­til the next Pot­ter/Morse/Twi­light deriva­tion comes along.

‘Ut­terly lov­able, ut­terly un­for­giv­able’: Jodie Comer, far left, in Killing Eve.Sid Gen­tle Films Michaela Coel, left, in Black Earth Ris­ing, ‘dom­i­nates ev­ery scene in which she ap­pears’. BBC

‘A tale of hope­less dys­func­tion’: Don­ald Suther­land, Anna Chan­cel­lor, Amanda Drew, So­phie Win­kle­man and Verónica Echegui in Trust. FX

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.