As I mentioned last week, the two big hotly anticipated dramas in the run up to Christmas have been The Great Train Robbery and Lucan, both of which commenced and concluded tonight on BBC1 and ITV respectively. Both of which I'm pleased to report have been very enjoyable.
Tonight I'm concentrating on the latter, ITV's Lucan. From writer Jeff Pope - who had previously made dramas from other high profile crimes such as The Yorkshire Ripper (This is Personal), The Moors Murders (See No Evil) and Fred West (Appropriate Adult) - comes this well made ITV production about the case of Lord 'Lucky' Lucan; the murder of the nanny Sandra Rivett and Lucan's subsequent disappearance.
Rory Kinnear has become one of my favourite actors, especially from the performances I've seen from him this year. He shows such an impressive range, from Shakespearian King in The Hollow Crown to violent chav dad in Broken, plus haunted TV journalist in Southcliffe and lovely comic turn in old fashioned sitcom Count Arthur Strong. He's well cast here as Lucan portraying the man's arrogance and selfish streak (traits that stem from a combination of lifelong privilege and his chosen career as a professional gambler) perfectly, though perhaps missing out on the charm the man was said to have - a charm that made his friends fiercely loyal and women adore him.
The other big character in this dramatisation is John Aspinall, the owner of the gambling den that was The Clarmont Club and zoos (one keeps animals, the other...yeah, that's right) played here by Christopher Eccleston. Much has been said of Eccleston's strange posh accent here, including some accusations of him being miscast, but I think that misses the point. Yes it's true Eccleston isn't really a master of accents beyond the Mancunian one he naturally possesses but you cast Eccleston for his superb skills as an actor and the ability to convey great depth, so to focus on or quibble about the accent is a bit unfair I think. Besides, footage of Aspinall shows he had a very pronounced posh drawl and Eccleston inhabits the man's almost militaristic bearing perfectly well. He's a cold bastard, but one who lives diligently by what he believes in, namely his own rather antiquated code and values such as the survival of the fittest and divide and rule, and the performance is a believable one of a man who holds the clique of gamblers utterly in the palm of his hand. Plus with his menagerie of animals always at his side including monkeys, lion cubs and snakes, and his penchant for gambling there were times when he came across as a Bond villain, which just suited the air of aristocratic 70s glamour the film pervaded.
The rest of the film is littered with solid performances from the likes of Catherine McCormack (as Lucan's wife, the woman he intended to kill on that fateful night in order to repossess his children - the biggest gamble of his life, as Aspinall would later have it) Rupert Evans and what amounts to a succession of classy cameos from the likes of Michael Gambon and Jane Lapotaire as people who knew Lucan et al, recounting their version of events to Paul Freeman playing the author John Pearson. Pope's screenplay is based on Pearson's book The Gamblers and it's rather a neat way of framing the events.
What makes this different from the previous true crime dramas from Pope is that the actual crime itself and the actions and activities of the perpetrator of that crime are placed front and centre in the story. In the past, Pope's dramatisations skirt the issue with some sensitivity focusing instead on the police squad investigating The Ripper, the Smith family - Myra Hindley's sister and her husband, and the social worker present throughout the West investigation. But here we see Lucan in all his 'glory', with the strain his gambling caused his marriage, the cruelty he put his wife through, the subsequent breakdown of the marriage, the murder and ultimately his disappearance and the theory that he was murdered to prevent any future or indeed further embarrassment on Aspinall's orders. It's a bold move and places the film squarely in the firing line for accusations of sensationalism - accusations the other productions managed to largely avoid after their broadcast.
There's one rather touching scene, set immediately after the inquest into Rivett's death which found Lucan guilty of her murder. It's set on the stairs of the coroners court and features a reporter asking Ms Rivett's parents how they feel about the verdict. Her father reveals that he is disgusted by the fact that the inquest, primarily about his daughter's tragic violent demise, was taken over by the sordid ins and outs of the Lucan's marriage breakdown and custody row, with his daughter barely gaining a mention. It's a very palpable moment and one that tugs at the heat strings, however it's hampered by the fact that Pope himself as a writer is just as guilty in focusing more on Lucan than he ever does on the victim. After 2 hours little is known about the young woman who lost her life that fateful evening and indeed, little screen time is given to her. From what we do see we can gather she was a bubbly fun loving and dedicated young woman who was simply and most tragically in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Naturally enough, and perhaps for those very reasons, the film has received much criticism from the families of both Rivett and Lucan; each claiming the production is little more than a cash in.
Minor flaws aside, Lucan remains a solid, mostly sensitive and nicely made period crime drama. Amazingly, despite my knowing the story and having read a couple of books on the subject, it still had the power to shock in many of its most crucial scenes.