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

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
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.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam