Neil Jordan should stop worrying and learn to love Riviera

Neil ‘Big Deal’ Jordan has disowned the hit drama, but we’re not certain that his version would have been any better

The trailer for Sky Atlantic series, Riviera, starring Julia Stiles.

 

Neil Jordan isn’t happy. He says the prestige television drama Riviera (Thursday, Sky Atlantic) is not the show he wrote and he laments losing creative control of it (so reports ace Sunday Business Post writer Nadine O’Regan).

I get why he’s unimpressed. His name features in the glittery Eurovisiony credits for each episode and it might as well say “This is Neil Jordan’s fault!” or “Jaysus, Neil, what are you at?!”

It wasn’t even his idea. It all originated with former U2 manager and gazillionaire Paul McGuinness who, while lolling about the Cote d’Azur, was moved to pity by the plight of the Monacan underclass (mere millionaires with but one yacht to their names) and was inspired to create a Jimmy McGovernesque kitchen-sink drama about the financial travails of a humble banking family. It is, ultimately, Eldorado meets the How to Spend It supplement of the Financial Times meets Scooby Doo.

And so McGuinness leapt from his hot tub like Archimedes and lashed down to the local Irish Club to get the script-writing help of two clever lads from the old country, Neil “Big Deal” Jordan and John “Bants” Banville. Riviera was quite possibly a highbrow work of genius by the time they were done. They wrote it no doubt, with quills on parchment, while smoking opium and wearing cravats and berets, their minds truly on higher things.

Enter the evil Television Execs, probably called Brad and Ken, and definitely wearing shiny suits with their sleeves rolled up Miami Vice-style and clutching big phones with aerials sticking out of them. Brad and Ken take one look at Jordan and Banville’s dark art-world-exposing scripts and start adding gratuitous sexy interludes and Dynasty daftness. So says Jordan, who lest we forget is the writer of The Borgias, which wasn’t immune to sexy interludes and daftness itself (I like to call it ‘Sexpope’).

Here’s the premise of Riviera.

Georgina (Julia Stiles), a slightly dead-eyed art curator with a secret, is married to mysterious plutocrat Constantine Clio, who explodes along with a priceless painting and several less important people in a yacht. Such is life, to paraphrase the Cheeky Girls.

Julia Stiles as Georgina Clios in series one of Riviera. Photograph: Sky
Julia Stiles as Georgina Clios in series one of Riviera. Photograph: Sky

Instantly, questions are raised. Is Constantine really dead? What is in his unfathomable safe-room behind the wine cellar? Who was the Mysterious SexyLadyTM  seen diving from his fancy yacht of death? What are the points for art history these days, anyway? And how did Constantine really make his money?

The last two questions are linked, if only because Georgina never bothered inquiring about the source of Constantine’s wealth while he was alive, preferring to sashay around his delightful properties in fancy frocks with a sulky puss on her. Perhaps she assumed he just toiled every day at the business-factory, where he was paid a union wage of real estate, diamonds, fine wines and sports cars?

Adult children

Georgina must now contend with these mysteries as well as manage Constantine’s adult children, a bewildered coke-snorting lothario (Dimitri Leonidas), a charmingly flaky novelist (Iwan Rheon, channelling a young Banville) and a rabid pixie-dream burp (Roxane Duran). The latter is engaged in a star-crossed flirtation with the gardener, and her hobbies include walking around in her pants and popping up suddenly behind furniture, like a ghost or a disobedient pet or a glove puppet on a disturbing children’s TV show. Meanwhile, Georgina’s hobbies include staring for interminably long periods at the forged masterpiece and maguffin Juno Confiding Io to the Care of Argus and remembering to exhibit emotions occasionally.

At the start of this week’s episode, Georgina shoots a deer, to indicate, I think, that she is a force to be reckoned with. Before long, no doubt emboldened by this senseless act of violence, she’s frantically waving a gun around in the studio of a neckerchief wearing art-forger and enlisting her old art-world friend Robert (Adrian Lester) to break into her husband’s fortified safe room (a sentence that usually spells trouble for a marriage) and spy upon the glorious secrets within.

There’s also Constantine’s ex-wife Irina (Lena Olin), who attempts to control the family from afar and manipulates local dignitaries with her sexy wiles, Phil Davis faxing it in as an Interpol investigator (“phoning it in” suggests a little too much urgency) and the aforementioned Sexy WomanTM  who escapes from hospital dressed as a nurse before hitching a lift with a man who naturally assumes she’s a prostitute (why?!?). To quote les kidz: that escalates quickly. The man unbuckles his trousers. She stabs him in the head with a model of the Eiffel Tower. This event is both gratuitously horrible and also a metaphor for how Brexit negotiations are going.

Faxing it in: Phil Davis in Riviera. Photograph: Sky
Faxing it in: Phil Davis in Riviera. Photograph: Sky

Then the whole family go out for a dinner, at which they bait one another drunkenly and at least one of them drops €600,000 at a casino. Irina has sex with the casino owner, for that is her way. Then Robert inexplicably gasses the whole household into unconsciousness. It’s unclear why he’s doing this, but I assume, like the rest of us, he’s just sick of the lot of them (next week, hopefully, we’ll all just sit around with Robert appreciating Juno Confiding Io to the Care of Argus).

I have no idea how Jordan and Banville’s apparently darker scripts went, but unless the characters all turned into werewolves (possibly) or ruminations on the Irish condition (unlikely) I can’t see how there was ever going to be much more to this premise. It doesn’t really stretch beyond “the rich, sure look at the cut of them!”, and this, when not done for the purposes of camp or satire, is just tiresome.

Arses!

Neil Jordan’s other programme, Naked Attraction (Thursday, Channel 4), or, to use his original preferred title, Arses! Arses! Arses!, is a bit more entertaining (editor’s note: Neil Jordan has nothing to do with Naked Attraction). A superficially educational nude dating show overseen with purgatorial patience by Anna Richardson, it is, of course, an excuse to see naked people under the helpful cover of social-scientific respectability. To which I say: “Ooh err, Doctor Boffinly, you don’t get many of those to the pound!” and also, “Seriously? We’re doing this now?”

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