ITV’s lavish Lord Lucan biopic juxtaposes glitz and gritty reality
When Lucan kicked off with a ‘The Only Way is Essex’ pre-curser style start on Wednesday night, I had my reservations. The ‘based on true events (*with scenes created for dramatic purposes)’ opener didn’t really gel with me. I’m always wary of ‘stories based on fact’ yet clearly created to entertain, especially those based on murder. It’s clear television drama is far from fact, and alongside a sure dose of drama, viewers were offered a performance at full force, resulting in an incredibly engaging episode, which as I watched, I didn’t have time to question whether it was true or false, fact or fiction,- not that this isn’t important. But Lucan, first and foremost, took viewers back to 1958, and offered what was very much a tale of “excitement, glamour, fear, greed… and a dash of desperation”.
The plot started quite generally, before diving headfirst into the trials and tribulations of ‘Lucky’ Lord Lucan’s relationship with his wife Veronica (Catherine McCormack). Given the nickname of Lucky after winning £26,000 in one night, Lucan (Rory Kinnear) is quick to gamble away his winnings and inheritance alike. Much of the first episode was thus set in the Clermont gamblers club in Mayfair. Poker chips, whisky and women were shown to be constantly floating around the room and although most of the visuals were great – it was the acting talent that stood out and demanded attention.
McCormack in particular was absolutely brilliant. Fighting off claims of insanity whilst dealing with her demanding and manipulative husband, she played the role of Veronica flawlessly. Not only was she incredibly believable but as a viewer you were also one hundred percent behind Veronica in hating Lucan and his calculating ways. You wanted her to escape from their marriage, you wanted her to win custody of the children and you wanted her to survive.
Although most of the time, the acting distracted from any trivial annoyances, there were scenes that just didn’t seem to fit and flow as nicely as others: Aspinall (Christopher Eccleston) feeding his pet gorilla, sat side by side in an enclosure within the grounds of his mansion; just looked a bit daft (probably as daft as it sounds). Later, during a brief weekend away holidaying, characters seemed to enter and exit scenes incredibly quickly, uttering a line or two on camera, or intercepting conversations before disappearing off screen. It just didn’t really seem to work. Because focus was so often on Veronica and Lucan, the various other characters became slightly insignificant. Perhaps the wider cast will come into play during the next instalment. Yet, even the nanny, murdered by Lucan at the end of the episode, isn’t given much in terms of back-story and character development. Instead, focus was very much on McCormack and Kinnear and the glamour of the upper-class lifestyle. However it would seem as though sometimes ITV went too far in trying to achieve these lavish scenes, taking away from the seriousness of the storyline. The man cast as ‘gorilla’ certainly didn’t bring much to the story. I personally found the primates incredibly off-putting.
I much preferred the scenes of gritty reality within the family home to those more glitzy and glamorous within the Clermont gamblers club, yet, on reflection, perhaps it was this contrast that made the reality more ‘real’ and enjoyable. Little things were done really well; the lights flickering within the kitchen at night, encouraging viewers to creep closer to their screens; the pain in Veronica’s voice as she fought for custody of her children, and the breathing pattern of Lord Lucan following his committing murder. Compared to the more lavish scenes of men walking around in tuxedoes, and Aspinall carrying a monkey on his shoulder, this felt more important.
Lucan cut out with ‘to be continued’ in perfect time. I am genuinely excited for the next instalment, and that doesn’t usually happen with me. The “excitement, glamour, fear [and] greed” of Lucan really drew me in… and perhaps this time the “dash of desperation” comes from me, wanting to know what next weeks episode will offer.