Ben Kingsley in a knowing, enjoyable neo-noir series on TG4
Perpetual Grace Ltd belongs to an era of black and white film, voice-overs and artificial dialogue
Kingley’s presence alone tells you most of what you need to know about the plot
Lying by the New Mexico roadside and strung out on methadone, the accidental grifter James (Jimmi Simpson) is discovered by two gruff but good Samaritans. “Why are you lifting me in the air?” he asks as he’s carried to their car in a voice as flat as the landscape. “Unhand me.” The couple laugh at the phrase. “He thinks he’s historical!”
In Perpetual Grace Ltd (TG4, Wednesday, 10.30pm), a very knowing, very enjoyable neo-noir series, James may be correct. The show would rather belong to another era, when voice-overs frowned through convoluted plotlines, dialogue was wittily artificial, seediness preferred to come in symbols, and black and white was preferable to vivid colour.
That James is not all he seems has been established with uncanny briskness: a rattled fire-fighter, co-opted into an unsavoury man’s scam to defraud his parents, a Pastor and his wife, of their ill-gotten gains. That Pastor Brown is not all he seems has been established by the fact that he is played by Ben Kingsley.
In a career playing saints and sinners, from Gandhi to Sexy Beast, Kingsley has made spiritual serenity seem somehow more menacing than rage, demonstrating a preternatural focus that might explode at any minute.
If his presence in the show alone tells you most of what you need to know about the plot, creators Steven Conrad and Bruce Terris likewise don’t waste time in establishing characters and motivations. The pastor and wife, or “Ma and Pa” as they prefer, wear hats borrowed straight from Bonnie and Clyde.
That James is a creature of tormented conscience is brings a fretful, unreal comedy to a scene in which he renders a teenage pawn shop employee unconscious with a few light, warning taps to the head first. The complicity of a Mexican jailer, played by Luiz Guzman, is decided by an amusingly dispiriting tracking shot through his chronically distracted home life.
That secures the sense of an exercise in sly, self-conscious style, where the uncanny symmetry of shots recalls the unsettling artificial frames of Wes Anderson and the regular subversion of tone nods firmly at the Coen Brothers. You half wonder if the show isn’t its own kind of double-cross, swindling a poor old wealthy genre out of all of its jewels before selling them off as second hand.
“I might be incorrigible,” worries James to Pastor Brown at one point, reaching again for pleasingly historical expression. For Pastor Brown, we soon learn, there’s no doubt about it. Given the absorbing transgressions of the show so far, let’s hope its wry and unsavoury character is no better.