TV review: Decline and Fall, BBC One
Superior romp with Jack Whitehall, David Suchet and Eva Longoria clearly having a jolly time
The BBC's lavish adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's 1928 satire Decline and Fall sets out its stall from the opening seconds. As some seriously entitled Oxford poshos go on a destructive rampage in their halls (with a pig's head being hurled out of a window and sacred bottles of port getting smashed to smithereens), the studious Paul Pennyfeather (Jack Whitehall) is quietly reading by a log-fire with an equally scholarly chum who asks: 'would you like to do some rubbings with me?' The object of such tactile pursuits is a church's brass collection rather than anything more salacious, but the tone is immediately cast.
When Pennyfeather is caught up in the chaos and stripped naked, rather than being comforted as the victim, he's flung out of college in disgrace, his dreams of entering the priesthood gone forever. This savage injustice forces Pennyfeather to take on a position at a rubbish boarding school in rural Wales (upon arrival he is inevitably met by a woolly member of the community) where the fire escape is so precarious that it should never be used especially in an emergency.
Among the cast is an arch David Suchet as headmaster, a one-legged Douglas Hodge plays a fraught teacher, a vampish Eva Longoria is the single parent who Pennyfeather is instantly drawn to, while Stephen Graham does his menacing thing as the butler-like con artist whose key motivations appear to be kidnapping and blackmail. Meanwhile, Whitehall taps into his Bad Education background to enjoyably portray another unfortunate rabbit caught in the headlights.
Witty asides and frustrated ambitions abound as Pennyfeather slowly accepts his fate among the boozed-up staff and mischievous students. An enjoyable three-part romp from first to last, the cast's obvious glee with the material oozes from the screen right up to its satisfyingly circle-closing climax.
Decline and Fall starts on BBC One, Fri 31 Mar, 9pm.