TV review: Lucan and The Great Train Robbery
- Brian Donaldson
- 9 December 2013
Two notorious British crimes get the dramatisation treatment
Approaching the broadcast of ITV’s two-part drama, Lucan (●●●●), it didn’t take too long for friends and family to show their disgust that anyone would seek to exploit the alleged crime of Lord Lucan for artistic or financial gain. ‘Not entertainment’ and ‘appalling’ were some of the remarks attributed to the son of Sandra Rivett, the nanny who was murdered in the Lucans’ Belgravia home in 1974, just prior to the aristo’s disappearance, triggering a mystery that has been much speculated upon but which has never been truly solved.
Perhaps the family of Jack Mills, the Glasgow-London mail train driver who was coshed to his severe injury in 1963 and said to have never fully recovered from the trauma, will be preparing their outrage right now over the Beeb’s take on The Great Train Robbery (●●●).
While there is no escaping the fact that brutal crimes took place on both occasions and that people’s lives were ruined forever, the suggestion that art should not be made of real-life horrible events is wholly unreasonable. On that basis, this autumn alone, there would have been no Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, Kill Your Darlings or Captain Phillips. Should the ban stretch to TV documentaries? Or to newspapers which are reporting awful things every day while ultimately trying to make profits?
Where there might be some justification in such concerns is regards the approach taken by the makers of these dramas: are their portrayals exploitative, sensationalist or insensitive? An objective viewer of Lucan would be hard-pushed to conclude that those involved in the production deserve criticism for being any of those things. In putting together the story of how one man’s life slowly began to erode before seemingly taking desperate and violent action (the film’s conclusion is that Lord Lucan mistakenly killed Rivett rather than the intended victim, his estranged wife, Veronica, with whom he was embroiled in a bitter custody battle), writer Jeff Pope and director Adrian Shergold have crafted a tender and thought-provoking piece of television.
Rory Kinnear and Catherine McCormack are superb as the Lucans. Outwardly, Kinnear maintains a stiff-upper lip, but his internal turmoil is there for all to spy in his subtly forlorn demeanour. McCormack delivers an equally devastating performance, with the moment she realises her husband is trying to have her committed like a knife to the heart.
Such exquisite subtlety is never quite to the fore in The Great Train Robbery, which chooses to go so heavy on the glamour of the period that it’s hard not to conclude that the script from Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch) is siding a little too much with the victimless crime theory. And was it really necessary to include so many scenes of men walking in slo-mo? Jim Broadbent as DCS Tom Butler whose obsessive investigation finally brought all the robbers to justice (he even delayed his retirement to finally nail the ringleader, Bruce Reynolds) is certainly no reservoir dog.
More successful is the decision to split the drama’s two parts into A Robber’s Tale and A Copper’s Tale, giving us insight into the key figures on both sides, and showing that while Ronnie Biggs may have been the most famous of all the robbers, his involvement in the actual heist was largely peripheral. If you’re not related to anyone involved in either of these historical scenarios, take your chances on Lucan, a superior vintage of ‘fact-based’ drama.
Lucan is on ITV, Wed 11 & 18 Dec, 9pm; The Great Train Robbery is on BBC One, Wed 18 & Thu 19 Dec, 8pm.