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
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific