We live in a dark time. In October 2012, Operation Yewtree began. For those who don’t know, it was an investigation into historical sexual abuse allegations – predominantly the abuse of children – against British media personality Jimmy Savile and others, including other celebrities. By October 2015, 19 had been arrested and 6 were convicted. The so-called ‘Yewtree effect’ has been credited for an increase in the number of reported sex crimes – although the ‘naming and shaming’ before conviction has created many ethical questions, with some innocent people’s careers wrongly ruined by allegations.
It was only a matter of time until someone in the world of film or TV saw these stories and created something around it. 2016 brought us just that, with Channel 4’s fictional National Treasure. Paul Finchley (Robbie Coltrane) is the titular national treasure. With Karl Jenkins (Tim McInnerny), Finchley was part of an iconic double act beloved by the entire country for many years – although he is now comfortable hosting an afternoon quiz show on Channel 4. But his quiet life is disturbed when he is accused of historic sexual crimes that could bring his life tumbling down, as well as destroying the lives of his wife (Julie Walters) and daughter (Andrea Riseborough). As you can see, the show is only loosely ‘fictional’ in a sense; this is something that has happened to many iconic broadcasters and personalities in the last few years. Some have been guilty, and some have been innocent. Where does Paul Finchley fit in?
That is where the show’s true power lies. National Treasure could’ve easily opened in the past, and shown us exactly what Finchley did. But instead, we’re not shown a solid memory until the very last 15 minutes. This execution has us constantly questioning Finchley’s stories and fighting internal conflicts regarding whether to trust the man or not, making for truly riveting viewing. Little pieces of information about his past are slowly fed to us, regarding his many infidelities and complex family life. But is he a rapist? You’ll have to watch the show’s entire 4 episodes to find out.
Tackling subject matter as dark and current as this, National Treasure is clearly intended as an important piece of television and a ‘show for our times’. It is something we will look back on in 20 years when, hopefully, investigations like Yewtree are a thing of the past. And we will be shocked as we remember just how dark a time it was, with beloved figures left-right-and-centre being accused of the most heinous crimes.
National Treasure is, unsurprisingly, often harrowing viewing. Although the programme utilises something of a tell-don’t-show delivery, the detailed descriptions of sexual violence can sometimes be quite upsetting – and potentially a trigger for victims who have had to suffer such an ordeal. When the programme aired on TV, each episode ended with support information for those affected by the show’s content. Therefore, it goes without saying that National Treasure is difficult to watch, and this is something the viewer should consider before starting it.
But I’m sure the main question on your mind is ‘is Hagrid good in it?’. Yes, yes he bloody is. This is a remarkable performance and one of the bravest you’ll see in a while. As the comedian-under-investigation, Coltrane’s nuanced and understated performance is one for the ages. I’m sure he’s dusting off some space on his shelf for the many awards he will surely receive over the coming months. But it’s not all about Coltrane. Julie Walters and Andrea Riseborough are equally powerful as Finchley’s wife and daughter respectively – Walters brings a conflicted side to her role while Riseborough’s Dee is a perfectly portrayed victim of a hard life. But for me, the biggest and most memorable role in the show was Cristobal Tapia de Veer – the composer who lent the show such a hauntingly beautiful and bleak score. Utterly mesmerising and chilling.
Overall, National Treasure is an unforgettable viewing experience and an era-defining piece of work. It is dark and upsetting viewing, but engrossing and powerful. I can’t imagine it has much rewatch value, nor can I say you’ll particularly ‘enjoy’ it. But it’s a startlingly brave work from all involved, and one that is absolutely worth a watch. And yes, it’s far better than the Nicolas Cage films…National Treasure is a bleak piece of work, but one that will stick with you for a long time. 4/5
National Treasure at CeX
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