TV review: National Treasure, Channel 4
Wonderfully tense opening to a four-part drama about historical sex crimes
Is veteran comedy entertainer Paul Finchley a serial sex offender whose crimes are finally being exposed decades later? Or is he the victim of a media witch-hunt triggered by the claims of a desperate woman? These are the key questions at the heart of Jack Thorne's four-parter National Treasure and which have been central to the public debate over Operation Yewtree with a string of old-school celebs either being imprisoned or absolved.
Finchley is played by Robbie Coltrane in towering form as the establishment figure still in the public eye through hosting a Channel 4 daytime game show but aware that the TV world is rapidly speeding past him, given the junior ages of those he now has to call 'boss'. But while the future is getting away from him it's the past that might be set to destroy his life; the day after he hands his long-term comedy partner Karl Jenkins (Tim McInnerney) a lifetime achievement award at an industry bash, a knock on the door and visit to a police interview room changes his life forever.
Whether guilty or not of the initial rape accusation (more of his alleged victims begin to make statements), Finchley's status as front page news requires him to sneak out of back doors at the height of this media storm. In the wonderfully tense and atmospheric first episode, we are fed clues which certainly suggest something rather unsavoury lurking within the psyche of this seemingly mischievous and sly old dog. He gets up in the middle of the night to trawl porn sites, leaving Marie (Julie Walters) his 'loving, funny, religious' wife of 40 years to ignore those salacious habits as she had sidestepped the stench of perfume on him through years of adulterous behaviour. And a visit to his disturbed and depressed daughter Danielle (a wonderful Andrea Riseborough) has her reminding him of a violent incident during a family gathering which resulted in Paul demanding a vow of silence from the witnesses: the reek of Jimmy Savile's power to wield fear in order to hush people up hangs over that scene.
Whether over the course of four episodes we discover if Finchley is guilty or not, it might move on the debate over who should be protected in such cases before they go to trial: high-profile figures who might turn out to be innocent, or the potential victims who need others to tell their stories for justice to be served?
National Treasure starts on Channel 4, Sep (date tbc).