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.
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Indonesia executions: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford will refuse to wear a blindfold when she faces firing squad
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 4 Tory activist asked to step down after Labour candidate Rupa Huq is 'manhandled' while questioning Boris Johnson on the campaign trail
- 5 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
The C-Word, TV review: Sheridan Smith shines in a warm, honest account of a woman enduring a still too common fate
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Adam Sandler's The Ridiculous Six: Make-up 'used to darken skin of actors to make them look Native American'
The highly NSFW poster for Gaspar Noé's Love makes Nymphomaniac look like 50 Shades
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils