Stars: Hugh Laurie, Helen McCrory, Olivia Vinall
It remains a mystery why the sight of comic performers and actors turning their sights on drama always garners gasps of dog-walking-on-its-hind-legs awe. A moment’s thought tells us that most comedy roles are the sum of acting plus comedy; everyone embarking on the endeavour is the equivalent of Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.
Then again, no one fully appreciates her while they are caught up in the celluloid magic, either. The moment’s thought needs effort. We are not built to have it naturally.
In Roadkill (BBC One), a new four-part political thriller written by David Hare and directed by Line of Duty’s Michael Keillor, Hugh Laurie gets another chance to show off his dramatic footwork. There is, of course, a whole generation of viewers who know nothing of his ancient comedy partnership with Stephen Fry, nor of his glorious reign as the Prince Regent in Blackadder, let alone his perfect embodiment – if that is the word for a character made entirely from thistledown – of Bertie Wooster.
They know him only as the maverick, misanthropic genius Gregory House, around whom were built eight increasingly ambitious series, as moving as they were preposterous, of the medical drama House.
This is a fact that has me tucking the tartan rug more firmly into my bathchair against the chill winds of time than any news about how far into the past Back to the Future’s future is receding, or that I am older than Harry Corbett was when Matthew was born, so Sooty is now my great-great-handchild, or whatever new metric of mortality is doing the rounds on social media.
Last seen on these shores as the cold-blooded arms dealer Dicky Onslow Roper in The Night Manager, he plays something substantially worse here – a Tory politician called Peter Laurence. We meet him on a high, having succeeded in a libel case against a paper that alleged he had engaged in financial shenanigans as transport minister.
A journalist and key witness (the improbably named Charmian Pepper, played by Sarah Greene) changed her story on the stand. Fans of the charismatic “man of the people” (he was born in Croydon) are thrilled. Non-fans, including the prime minister (Helen McCrory, typically brilliant, but so exactly like the worst parts of Margaret Thatcher and the Queen combined that it is as if a horror version of The Crown keeps slipping in from an evil parallel universe), are less so.
As the high wears off, little eddies and flurries of disturbance and doubt begin to gather around Laurence: the claim of an unacknowledged daughter here, the hint of earlier financial impropriety not yet unearthed there.
A pincer movement of further investigations – by the sacked and vengeful Pepper, by the flinty PM, unimpressed with Laurence’s ambition – quietly set in motion. A long-term mistress (Sidse Babett Knudsen, presumably with much more to do than her introduction in the opening episode promises). A driver who may not be as loyal as her narcissistic passenger assumes.
The fact that it is set in an alternative universe where neither Brexit nor the pandemic dominate each character’s every thought gives this unspooling tale of greed, weakness and corruption a generic or pleasingly retro mood, depending on your take.
So far, I would plump for pleasingly retro. It is good to be reminded of the enduring truths – that power corrupts, that charisma tells us nothing of a man (or woman), that political ambition is rarely purely a craving to serve the public. In a good light, on a good day, it makes their multiple manifestations look more manageable.
As Laurence is revealed to be even more thickly coated in Teflon than originally suspected, it also poses questions more immediately resonant with the ordinary viewer about conscience: who has one, why it matters, the damage done without it on a micro and a macro scale.
Read more : Industry 2020 Tv Show Review Trailer Online
Laurence is a man who never falters, never looks back, a shark who doesn’t stop swimming past the corpses of those he has bitten lest he drown. He is a man of the people who lacks a vital human spark. How far he can go and what we can do about it is something to interrogate. So much blood in the water.