Lucan, ITV, with Rory Kinnear, Christopher Eccleston, Michael Gambon PREVIEW

Lucan, ITV: RORY KINNEAR s Lord Lucan and CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON as John Aspinall.
High-rollers Lord Lucan (Rory Kinnear) and John Aspinall (Christopher Eccleston). Pics : ITV

Rating: ★★★★

ITV: starts Wednesday, 11 December, 9pm

Story: Desperate to get custody of his children, professional gambler Lord Lucan plots to make his wife Veronica ‘disappear’…

IT IS ALMOST FUNNY that Lord Lucan, professional gambler and murder suspect, was known by the nickname ‘Lucky’. However, this story, based on true events, is too full of callousness and cowardice to be a laughing matter.

The sobriquet was given to him by his chums after the Earl won £26,000 in one night’s gambling.

Lucan, ITV: CATHERINE MCCORMACK as Veronice Lucan.
Isolated – Veronica Lucan (Catherine McCormack)

But as ITV’s riveting two-part drama reveals, it soon became an ironic moniker as Lucky started haemorrhaging thousands of pounds at the Clermont Club, owned by his pal John Aspinall.

In the drama he also fails to bully his wife Veronica into a psychiatric institution and loses his custody battle with her for their three children, making him distraught that his position in life as a gambler and Earl did not entitle him to take precedence over her.

Final gamble is cowardly and disastrous

And then his final throw of the dice also goes disastrously for Lucky when, instead of killing his wife in a plan to make her disappear, he kills his children’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, by accident.

Lucan, ITV: MICHAEL GAMBON as Older Burke and PAUL FREEMAN as John Pearson.
Author John Pearson (Paul Freeman) and Burke (Michael Gambon)

The 1974 crime is a cause célèbre, as is Lucan’s amazing disappearance. Despite many reported sightings of the Earl around the world, his fate remains unknown. ITV’s Jeff Pope, whose script won a Bafta for his drama See No Evil: The Moors Murders, here delves into a world of incredible snobbery and class arrogance to explore events before and after the 1974 murder.

Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of Lucan has less to do with the charismatic, Aston Martin-driving gad about town of repute, than a cruel, introverted chancer who’s flung away his money and is obsessed with regaining his children.

Christopher Eccleston is chilling

Lucan, ITV: LEANNE BEST as Sandra Rivett
The nanny, Sandra Rivett (Leanne Best)

The most terrifying character on show is Christopher Eccleston’s John Aspinall, who owned the Clermont – in real life he later became well known as a zoo owner. His approach to human relations here owes much to the law of the jungle, and he encourages his friend Lucan to crush Veronica through the courts without mercy.

When that fails, he almost encourages something more extreme. ‘I’m your friend,’ he says to the moping Earl, ‘but I cannot help you if will not help yourself.’ This is a man who milks his ‘friend’ Lucan for all his money via his gambling club and bemoans the fact that people of breeding are losing control of the country, conveniently ignoring the fact that he was born out of wedlock, the son of a soldier.

Lucan, ITV: RORY KINNEAR s Lord Lucan and Exttras from the show, Myrtle Vraets and Kya Garwood
High life – Lucan at the Clermont

Veronica appears to have been treated with huge cruelty and callousness by the Clermont set, most of whom seem to believe she should leave her husband alone to throw away all of his wealth.

John Pearson’s book The Gamblers

The drama is based on John Pearson’s book The Gamblers, and speculation and fictionalised characters are used to tell the tale. That Lucan’s now grown-up children, Lady Camilla Bloch and George Bingham, have been voicing their fears over the drama is a reminder that dramatising real-life crimes to some degree appropriates the lives and memories of surviving family members.

However, conscientious dramas such as Five Daughters and Appropriate Adult have been serious attempts to understand notorious murders or examine the wrong done to innocent, decent victims. Lucan is a worthwhile and compelling look at a brutal unresolved crime that still makes the headlines today, along with the social world that engendered it.

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