Lord Lucan, the disappearing act that refuses to die away

The enduring fascination with the life of Lord Lucan continues in an ITV drama. James Rampton hears from the show’s stars

Chris Clough, the producer of Lucan, ITV1's new, two-part drama about the larger-than-life aristocrat Lord Lucan who stands accused of murdering his children's nanny on 7 November 1974 and then vanishing off the face of the earth, is a baffled man.

"I just don't know why no one has made this story into a drama before," the producer says. "It's got everything – aristocrats, romance, murder, the Establishment, casinos, a crime of passion, the wrong murder victim, the disappearance of the murderer and supposed sightings of him ever since. Perhaps film producers were just waiting for Lord Lucan to turn up!"

ITV1 has decided not to wait for that highly unlikely eventuality. They have just gone ahead and made this absorbing drama anyway. Penned by Jeff Pope and starting next Wednesday, the piece centres on Lord Lucan (Rory Kinnear).

At first he seems to be a character exuding charisma, glamour and wealth. After streakily winning £26,000 in one night at a casino in Le Touquet, he gains the nickname of "Lucky" and decides to become a professional gambler. But as his losses mount and he is unable even to pay the milkman, Lucan's nickname starts to look increasingly ironic.

The Old Etonian Lucan is drawn into the malevolent orbit of John Aspinall (Christopher Eccleston). A ruthless puppet-master, Aspinall runs the Clermont Club, a Mayfair casino where gullible aristocrats are all too easily parted from their money.

When Lucan's wife, Veronica (Catherine McCormack), begins to complain vociferously that her husband spends far more time at the Clermont than at home, Lucan soon becomes fed up and resolves to split from her.

When, as part of the divorce settlement, Lucan is denied custody of his children, he swiftly unravels. He starts to spy on his ex and tape her phone calls. Poisoned by the virulent world-view of the Clermont Set and addled by drink and debt, he determines to bring the dispute with his wife to a sudden and violent conclusion.

In the basement of the family home, Lucan lies in wait for her with a length of lead piping in his hand. However, his children's nanny, Sandra Rivett, has the misfortune to walk in at the exactly wrong moment ...

As you can see, Lucan is a story that comes with its own, inbuilt drama. As the executive producer Francis Hopkinson puts it: "Just as the Profumo Scandal is the perfect storm of aristocrats, sex and spying, so the Lucan Affair is the perfect storm of aristocrats, money and murder mystery. It has fascinated us for almost four decades. Because Lucan completely disappeared after the murder, there is still a real mystique about the case. On the night the nanny was killed, there was an IRA bomb in south London. You never hear about that bomb now. But you still hear an awful lot about Lucan."

Lucan, who felt abandoned when his parents sent him to boarding school at a very young age, was a textbook example of arrested development. He also possessed the archetypal English trait of being unable to express his emotions.

Clough says: "Lucan had 12 identical suits and he ate exactly the same thing for lunch every day – smoked salmon followed by lamb cutlets. A psychologist would have a field day with that!

"Lucan was removed from his family at a young age, and remained like a little boy. As well as gambling, he was addicted to adrenaline sports like bobsleigh. He once got someone to film him in a speedboat race. He stormed into the lead before spectacularly sinking – which is not a bad metaphor for his life."

It is not hard to see where Lucan's warped view of women came from. Eccleston says the drama underscores the fact that the Clermont Set was mired in misogyny.

"At first, I was worried that we might be hitching a lift on someone else's tragedy," says the 49-year-old actor.

But, he continues: "Once I read Jeff's script, those worries disappeared. I saw that it has a very strong moral centre. Jeff highlights the victims' plights and underlines that Sandra lost her life and Veronica lost her children and status and was unfairly vilified.

"This drama exposes the misogyny that prevailed among the moneyed classes. These men progressed straight from public school to another form of all-male common room in the casinos. They took a medieval view of women as mere chattels."

For all that, Lucan is not portrayed as an out-and-out villain. Kinnear says: "The drama shows that gentle people are capable of the most appalling things. There is very little rationality in life, and that's scary."

Eccleston chips in: "The audience is left with a lot of grey areas. They're not spoon-fed. They're treated with intelligence."

The drama leaves us with a strong sense of the enduring influence of the class system in this country. For instance, Lucan is initially convinced he will win custody of his children simply because he is an Earl.

"This case shows how obsessed we are with the class system," observes Eccleston. "At that time, we were labouring under the delusion that the upper classes behaved better than everyone else because they had more money. We were incredibly naive.

"But we all still define things in those terms. Class is still the monkey on this country's back. This drama does what drama does best: it lifts the lid on that exclusive world."

'Lucan' begins on Wednesday 11 December at 9pm on ITV

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn