Grace Dent on TV: Lucan, ITV

Another great Lucan mystery: how could ITV make this story so boring?

I write to you at a time of the year – just pre-Christmas – when TV slides rather grimly down the pan into a festive, tinsel-strewn, knit-your-own-baubles sewer. I know that this sentence goes against everything that the British know to be true. Christmas is, we believe, a time for great telly. Yes, on Christmas Day perhaps – but currently we are lost in a quagmire of pre-recorded-in-July Yuletide food specials celebrating a murky obsession with pushing a poussin up the arse of a duck, then wrapping the lot in pancetta.

Or repeats of the Mrs Brown’s Boys 2012 two-parter; or lacklustre end-of-year round-up zeitgeist shows, staffed by teen researchers who’ve cut-and-pasted the running order from Buzzfeed.com; or Text Santa, ITV’s response to the BBC’s light entertainment endurance test, Children in Need.

The greatest Christmas TV moments for me are when BBC2 dig out The Good Life 1977 Christmas special and I can spend a lovely, elegant half hour watching Penelope Keith cancel Christmas due to the insufficient length of the tree delivered. This lovely tale of a non-silly woman learning to be silly for one day with the tutoring of Richard Briers has never been bettered. The greatest Christmas movie moment is when ITV4 dig out Scrooged, in which Bill Murray plays a cold-hearted, steeped-in-sarcasm TV exec. He’s the sort of man who thinks that using a staple gun to attach mini-antlers to a mouse is acceptable in the race for Christmas ratings.

By coincidence, I would rather have antlers stapled to my own head, or maybe mistletoe, or an actual live turkey, than sit through the crime drama Lucan, which ITV offered up as one of their Christmas run-up “let’s all sit down with a glass of Port and enjoy some quality acting” treats.

The tale of Lord Lucan’s disappearance is one of the most fascinating and endlessly obsessed-over crime events in modern British history. It has everything a good crime tale needs: a devious, decadent upper-class cast spinning around 1970s London in fancy cars, feeling somewhat above the law. Private clubs, private jets, private zoos, everyone married yet everyone boffing everyone else’s partner in a web of delicious badness. It features a murder suspect who is raffish and sexy as well as a thoroughly malevolent soul. It spawned decades of intrigue over where Lucan had fled to, with suggestions like the Congo, Mongolia, Argentina and many other places that a person like me from Carlisle thought sounded very, very glamorous when they read of them in the News of the World’s “World’s Greatest Mysteries” partwork.

Of course, at the root of this wondrous glamour is the bleak death of an innocent woman, Sandra Rivett. No one really cared about the woman with the misfortune to have been appointed by Lucan’s estranged wife as nanny to his children, and who  was found bludgeoned to death with a hammer.

My main criticism of Lucan is that it reduced this whole fabulous story to a drab, depressing tale of domestic violence filled with delusional chunterings about eugenics and the wonders of being an alpha male from creepy bully Lucan (Rory Kinnear) and his horrid friend John Aspinall (Christopher Eccleston). But then I look at this written down and wonder if this was the grim truth behind the Lucan legend anyway.

ITV presented a very dry telling of this story. For rich people, they appeared decidedly poor, mainly, I feel, as most of the budget had been spent on hammering home the point that Aspinall had a zoo by showing him in each scene carrying a live animal. A monkey on his shoulder, a lion cub on his lap as he divorced his wife, a gorilla in his garden etc. With funds depleted, the drama team showed Lucan and his missus spending their holiday on a drafty British beach – no extras, no servants, no fine clothes, no evidence of largesse. Lucan, who was famed for his sharp, chiselled looks and charisma was played as a heavy-breathing, semi-mute, swaggerless wretch.

Nocturnal 70s London clubland looked as sexy as a bank holiday at an Allied Carpets warehouse. The script revolved around the clunky idea that Aspinall owned a zoo and was obsessed with the law of the jungle – specifically how male gorillas behaved when cuckolded or threatened by other males. The allegory – can you see it yet? Don’t worry, you’ve another dozen script references to make the connection – was that men like Aspinall and Lucan believed that they were Kings of Civilisation. If they wished to gain full custody of their children, banish their ex-wives, leave women without money and without access to their babies, well, so be it. And yes it’s cruel, but an Alpha Male has to be cruel, and occasionally this involves murder.

Lucan was a rather depressing couple of hours which really could have been better spent watching Channel 5’s Britain’s Craziest Christmas Lights, about those people in Bridlington who turn their cul-de-sac into a 200 megawatt, national-grid draining grotto. Equally futile, yes, but at least cheering, Christmassy and completely, satisfyingly silly. 

Arts & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
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 iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit