This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 24 September 2016.
National Treasure: Tuesday, Channel 4
Paranoid: Thursday, STV
Operation Yewtree and the VIP sex scandal is one of the biggest talking points of our age, so it was only a matter of time before it became the subject of a TV drama. Although the estimable Line of Duty recently employed it as a bold thematic plot point, National Treasure places the issue centre stage.
The treasure in question is Paul Finchley, a much-loved fictional comedy legend played by the similarly beloved yet non-fictional Robbie Coltrane.
He’s a charming, loving family man. His wife (Julie Walters) adores him even more than his public. He seems harmless. And then one morning the doorbell rings.
The police question him about an historic rape allegation. He denies all wrongdoing. The press get hold of the story – seemingly after a tip-off from the cops – and his life falls apart.
Gradually it’s revealed that Finchley isn’t as cuddly as he seems. He watches porn, cheats on his wife and sleeps with prostitutes. He’s seedy, dubious, but that doesn’t mean he’s a rapist. Does it?
Taking as his cue the compulsion, both in the media and among sections of society, to judge public figures before they’ve been proven innocent or guilty, writer Jack Thorne encourages us to regard Finchley with cautious suspicion.
An intriguing scene with Finchley and his psychologically damaged daughter (Andrea Riseborough) is key to the ambiguity running throughout episode one. When she tells him about a violent dream she had in which he sexualised her, is she unlocking a traumatic childhood memory?
Coltrane is superb as the pathetic, troubling, yet weirdly vulnerable Finchley, and Thorne handles this sensitive material in a measured way.
When more women came forward to accuse Finchley of sex offences, the stage was set for an exploration of a contentious area. But I worry that, should Finchley be found innocent, then this topical drama may lend credence to the dangerous culture of victim-blaming. Also, in purely dramatic terms, if Finchley is guilty, then the story might unfold exactly as expected. But as we know from real life, such stories often do.
Thorne, having decided to tackle such a complex issue, will have thought about this challenge in some depth – I admired his avoidance of obvious character exposition and authored moralising - so it will be interesting to see if he succeeds in overcoming potential pitfalls.
If he does, then National Treasure could be the nuanced, thought-provoking drama this subject both deserves and demands.
Aren’t you sick of thrillers in which people with mental health issues are portrayed as dangers to society, especially when – cliché of clichés – they’re off their meds? Paranoid was guilty of this and more.
A quotidian police procedural, it features standard beats such as a quipping crime scene investigation, cops receiving cryptic messages from a mysterious stranger ahead of the game, and a psychiatrist helpfully providing simplistic medical exposition. It even threw in a female Scandi-cop for good measure.
It attempts to embellish its investigators with details of their troubled private lives, but Scott & Bailey it ain’t. However, this allows the ever-reliable Robert Glenister to deliver solid work as a depressed copper suffering panic attacks. Elsewhere, Lesley Sharp is unnervingly serene as a strangely observant Quaker (the most sinister kind of Quaker).
Both deserve better than Paranoid. Although billed as a conspiracy thriller, it fails to provide the intrigue, drive and scope that the genre requires. How can you be thrilled when you don’t care about the conspiracy?