Television: Not so lucky Lord Lucan

For all anyone knows, the vanished peer could have been watching his own story from a Bournemouth bungalow

Elusive: Rory Kinnear as Lord Lucan and Catherine McCormack as his wife, Veronica

Elusive: Rory Kinnear as Lord Lucan and Catherine McCormack as his wife, Veronica

Sat, Dec 14, 2013, 01:00

Lord Lucan’s story has all the ingredients for a cracking good drama. In 1974 the raffish peer’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, was found bludgeoned to death in the family home in Belgravia. His estranged wife was also attacked, but she survived and was able to identify him to the police as the murderer, although by that time Lucan was long gone. He has never been found; instead he has generated nearly four decades of colourful theories about his whereabouts. For all anyone knows, he could have been sitting in a bungalow in Bournemouth watching Lucan (UTV, Wednesday), the dramatisation of the sensational events.

The drama captured the decadence and mindlessly useless lives of the toffs who frequented the Clermont, a gambling club in Mayfair where “Lucky” Lucan was a spectacularly unlucky gambler. But the way the story was told, mixing the past with reminisces from the present, gave it the feel of a crime reconstruction – and a jarringly stagy one at that.

Lucan is based on The Gamblers, a book by John Pearson, and the story was framed by the intrusive device of re-creating his research, with Paul Freeman, as Pearson, interviewing Lucan’s now very elderly but still evasive and superior aristo friends. This was intercut with a dramatisation of the events: on the streets, piled with rubbish because of the bin strike, everything looked 1970s grim, but the Clermont set, led by the eccentric and manipulative Lord Aspinall (Christopher Eccleston), still lived in a bubble of cushioned entitlement.

Lucan sticks to the theory that “Lucky” did it but that for the victim it was a case of mistaken identity. Desperate for custody of his children and, unhinged and prompted by Aspinall, he decided murder would be a neat way to get it. But the children’s new nanny was similar in size to his wife, and so, in the darkened room, he bludgeoned the wrong woman. A colourful what-if? in the story – true or not, it was hard to separate fact from fiction in this dramatisation – is that Lucan had insisted that the children’s old nanny, a wild-haired, stout older Irish woman (Ruth McCabe) with a hip flask at the ready, should be fired.

Rory Kinnear played Lucan as confused and pretty dim – more nice, diffident chap than flamboyant gambler – and his Lucan simply wasn’t posh enough to be credible: an old Etonian from a long line of titled wealth, and moving in a racy moneyed set, he had, we can safely assume, the strangulated vowels of his class and the arrogance of his station. Part one ended on the night of the murder; next week’s episode might be more compelling if it comes up with a convincingly intriguing story about what happened to the errant lord.

TV3 continues to tackle serious documentary. This week’s offering, A Doctor’s War (Monday) was a fascinating and well-told story of an extraordinary Corkman, Dr Aidan MacCarthy, whose second World War escapades were like something out of a Boy’s Own annual. A Clongowes boy, he graduated from medicine at UCC and, unable to find work, headed to London, where he joined the RAF. He served at Dunkirk and later became a prisoner of war in Nagasaki, where, after months of harrowing captivity, he was digging his own grave when the sirens went off and he was ordered to a shelter. He was the only Irishman to survive the atomic bombing of the city. His daughters Nicola and Adrienne told his story, simply and with great affection, while archive recordings of his account of his war were used to powerful effect under grainy archive footage of the brutal, bloody events.

He was awarded an OBE, the George Medal and a papal knighthood for his bravery. Nicola, talking from behind MacCarthy’s bar in Castletownbere, said: “It’s very hard to believe it actually happened, that any of it happened, let alone to my father.” The tightly edited, creatively produced film made it powerfully real.

The quality of the research made the hyperbole in the title Who’s Buying Ireland? (RTÉ One, Monday), an investigative documentary by Ian Kehoe of the Sunday Business Post, forgivable. I like to think there was once a documentary on Bulgarian TV called Who’s Buying Bulgaria?, although Kehoe’s top-notch interviewees weren’t wide-eyed Irish dabblers being sold overpriced apartments but global investors buying great chunks of property at rock-bottom prices.

Bill McMorrow, all LA tan, winning smile and wary eyes, was the prize interviewee. He is the head of an international investment fund at Kennedy Wilson, a company that manages assets of $13 billion. Of his global investments, 15 per cent are now Irish loans, bonds, the Bank of Ireland and bricks and mortar: he is one of our biggest absentee landlords. And it’s not green-mist blarney because his ancestors fled during the Famine: he also made a fortune out of the Japanese crash in the 1990s. “Whenever there is maximum pessimism, that’s when you really want to be investing.”

I couldn’t quite figure out the programme’s tone, which seemed caught between cheerleading the fact that these savvy, hard-nosed investors think this little island is worth investing in and suspecting that they are gimlet-eyed carpetbaggers and it will all end horribly for us. It was one for the archives, though, to be watched 10 years hence, to see how it all pans out. In the meantime, Who’s Selling Ireland? might be a good follow-up.

Because of its scope and energy, Imeall (TG4, Thursday) is by far the best home-produced TV arts programme, even though it’s not exactly a crowded field, because you come away marvelling at the breadth of artistic activity around the country.

It occasionally ditches its magazine format to concentrate, in its low-key way, on one topic or person. This week it was Christy Moore, interviewed by Tristan Rosenstock (in English) to mark the release of the singer-songwriter’s new album, Where I Come From. Rosenstock took his cue from the title, talking about Moore’s background: growing up in a politicised family; his early years on the London folk scene; and moving from singing other people’s songs to performing his own. “I love this thing that I do,” he said.

The relaxed chat, which was interspersed with some of Moore’s songs – who else could put “curly kale” and “murdering pints of stout” in a song about a saint? – and ended with Rosenstock on the bodhrán, accompanying Moore, which sounds the wrong side of folksy and the very reason you might be nervous about tuning in to TG4, but it worked.


tvreview@irishtimes.com

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