As National Treasure approaches its fourth and final episode, the rape trial of the fictional but oh-so-relevant Paul Finchley (Robbie Coltrane) looms darkly. The four-part series for Channel 4 has garnered attention as an important Yewtree-inspired drama featuring serious acting talent but so far it has not warranted the stamp of great TV.
Paul Finchley is the titular ‘national treasure’; an ageing icon of TV comedy and one half of a double act with Karl Jenkins (a perfectly cast Tim McInnerny). As the first episode begins, Finchley faces the humiliating task of presenting a Lifetime Achievement Award to his comedy partner, whose efforts on screen have routinely outshone his own.
The word humiliation recurs through flashbacks showing the imbalanced success of the duo, but Finchley soon finds a new kind of spotlight amid a flurry of historic rape allegations. As Finchley’s supposed crimes hit the front page, the narrative explores the debilitating effects of the accusations on his personal life. Andrea Riseborough is breathtaking as Finchley’s adult daughter Dee. Julie Walters is just as good as ever as the stoic, conservative wife Marie; but her character is unfortunately too severe alongside Coltrane, whose performance is deeply affecting.
Director Marc Munden and composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer have previously teamed up on E4’s Utopia, and the atmospheric similarity is too pronounced; National Treasure feels like an edgy sci-fi, which undermines its own seriousness.
Writer Jack Thorne, hot from penning the West End’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, has emphasised the necessity of keeping Yewtree-related discussions alive in a recent interview for The Guardian. The emphasis of the programme, however, has barely stepped beyond Finchley’s front door, keeping the alleged victims’ voices in silence.
If the purpose of National Treasure was to cast a new light on celebrity sex crimes, its first three episodes have failed. Thorne has expertly maintained the ambiguity surrounding Finchley’s innocence.
But it’s that half of the story that needs telling: endless close-ups of Finchley’s craggy face are not revealing anything new about sex offences or public responsibility.
Here’s hoping that the final episode will turn the tables. I’ve had enough of pretending to care about famous old men. I want to hear the other side.