The Weekend's TV: Exile, Sun, BBC1
Vera, Sun, ITV1

Secrets worth investigating

John Sullivan, the peerless wit and author of modern British culture, who died last month, recognised Jim Broadbent's talent early on.

As he was casting around for a cheeky, versatile, deeply loveable actor who could play the lead role of Del Boy in his Only Fools and Horses..., he alighted on Broadbent's avuncular visage. Sullivan offered him the role, but Broadbent was too busy, so it went to David Jason. The rest, as they say, is mystery.

In fact, Broadbent did make it into Only Fools and Horses... as DCI Roy Slater, a former lover of Del Boy's partner who had been at school with Del Boy and all his mates but earned their hatred when he became a rozzer. His best film performance was in Iris, when he played the frustrated husband of Iris Murdoch, nursing her through her final years with Alzheimer's.

In Exile last night, it was Broadbent who had Alzheimer's, and even in this first episode of three, he did enough to confirm his position alongside Ian McKellen, John Hurt and Michael Gambon as one of the greatest English actors of his generation. He was aided by two outstanding performances, from a bewitching John Simm (playing his son Tom) and the reliably wonderful Olivia Colman (his daughter Nancy).

Tom was a washed-up journalist who'd had enough of London life, where his sniffing of cocaine and hard-drinking had left him beaten by fatigue. I will be very surprised if the BBC receives fewer than 100 complaints about one particular rendezvous between Simm and the old Bolivian marching powder, which struck even this putative legaliser of hallucinogenics as rather too believable.

Having run away from family life, Tom returned to a deteriorating father, who himself had been an eminent hack, and his devoted daughter. In a late-night discussion with an old friend, whose wife Tom knows as a mistress, he revealed an occasion long ago when, rifling through papers in the family study, his father caught him. Daddy Broadbent proceeded to beat his son to a pulp, smashing his face against a desk in one particularly brutal scene. But not before Tom found the beginnings of a family mystery – a bunch of negatives, sealed in an envelope bearing the name of a local bureaucrat.

This was where the son following the father into journalism gave the narrative some bite. Tom used his journalistic wit to dig around the house, and so find out more about the father's secret. In doing so, he came across accounts that might save him and his sister from penury. This, then, was the reporter in search of the story – locked inside his father's brain.

There was a wonderful scene in which Tom came across some of his old mix tapes in the cellar, and played them through a ghetto blaster in the living room, trying to cajole some deep mystery from the depths of his father's calcifying mind.

Though Colman was fabulous as the ever-attendant sister, the show was carried by the masculine intensity of Simm's relationship with Broadbent, which fully deserves to be reprised on stage at some point. The periodic violence helped, of course, but it was the juxtaposition with humiliation that really struck home. Many was the time that son attended the father's visits to the lavatory, if only to guide him to the loo roll by his side; yet in between visits, they would be at each other's throats in deep frustration.

And I reckon that when Danny Brocklehurst, the writer, and Paul Abbott, the creator, reflect on their success later this week over a cup of chai with Danny Cohen, the BBC1 Controller, it will be the zeitgeistness of this show they feel happiest about. It engaged very directly with highly topical issues.

A giant, irreversible demographic shift is taking place in Britain and much of the Western world. We are all going to live much longer. This means that caring for old people, and with it treating attendant deteriorations in mental faculties is going to be a bigger and bigger part of our lives. Broadbent personified this coming change superbly. He was the burden we will have to bear – but will bear with the love and frustrations of all devoted children, who know that their debt to their parents is beyond measure.

Many of the same themes were there in Vera, over on ITV1 and double the length: mystery, personal angst, family trauma. Brenda Blethyn was excellent as DCI Vera Stanhope, she too being a hard-drinker (no evidence of cocaine use, alas) whose scruffy exterior makes her likeable. Her task in investigating grisly but slightly beautiful murders – one mother in Newcastle found her son strangled in a bathroom adorned with petals – had us on her side immediately. And her Columbo-like doggedness, which included a distinct lack of physical fitness while running across the countryside in pursuit of killers, made Blethyn feel instantly like a long-established Sunday night institution.

It was hard, watching all this glorious story-telling, not to feel like we still know how to make drama in Britain. For all the chatter about our inability to create shows like The Wire, Mad Men, and so on, there is original programming aplenty over here, which boasts superb acting and direction. The trouble is, it tends to go to air at the same time on different channels, which I guess is why they invented Sky+, and why I volunteer to write this stuff.

a.rajan@independent.co.uk;

twitter.com/amolrajan

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
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.

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing