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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Southcliffe Ch4, with Rory Kinnear, Eddie Marsan, Shirley Henderson, Sean Harris

Stephen Morton (played by Sean Harris) Channel 4 Southcliffe
Sean Harris as Stephen Morton in Southcliffe. Pics: Channel 4

Rating: ★★★★

Channel 4: starts Sunday, 4 August, 9pm

Story: As dawn breaks in the sleepy market town of Southcliffe, the unmistakable sound of gunshots rings out…

SUNDAY NIGHT is often reserved for costume fantasies such as Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs. Well, this week Channel 4 is ditching that custom and scheduling a four-parter that should be accompanied by a large whisky rather than a cosy Horlicks.

Southcliffe is the story of a random shooting spree by a loner in a quiet English market town. It is beautifully filmed with almost documentary intensity. It is unsettling, but really sucks you into these ordinary lives, one of which is hurtling horrendously out of control.

David Whitehead (played by Rory Kinnear) and Anthony (played by Al Weaver). Ch4 Southcliffe
Rory Kinnear is the reporter, David Whitehead

At the forefront of the drama is Steve Morton (Sean Harris – The Borgias, Prometheus), a misfit who is so intense he is always standing alone at the bar of his local, as though surrounded by a hostile force field. He is jokingly called the Commander by the locals, mocking his military garb.

Southcliffe and Broadchurch

He claims to have served with the SAS, trains with masochistic intensity and has a small arsenal in his container hideaway. He also cares for his fragile invalid of a mother, who has dementia.

Southcliffe is following ITV’s Broadchurch to some extent in offering a portrait of a community devastated by murder. The town itself, rooted solidly in Anglo Saxon England (it’s filmed in Faversham, Kent), has a military regiment and there are layers of pain among the servicemen we meet there.

Louise (played by Hayley Squires) and Chris Cooper (played by Joe Dempsie) Ch4 Southcliffe
Louise (Hayley Squires) and Chris (Joe Dempsie)

Chris (Joe Dempsie – Skins), who has just returned from Afghanistan to his doting wife, Louise (Hayley Squires), is bought a drink by Steve and tells him that combat was ‘the best fun you can have’. He seems unscathed, but he is secretly taking a lot of medication.

Steve stalks Chris through the forest

Chris’s army friend dies in hospital from wounds he received. And then there is Steve, who seems affronted by Chris apparently having had a ‘good’ war. He offers to help Chris get into shape for the SAS, but instead brutally stalks him through the forest.

‘I think you need help,’ say Chris, in the understatement of the year. It is this incident that tips events towards disaster

Rory Kinnear (Count Arthur Strong, Skyfall) also stars as cynical, bitter reporter David who grew up in Southcliffe and returns to cover the story. Shirley Henderson and Eddie Marsan play a local couple. All of these characters come to the fore after episode one, when the feelings of grief and guilt come to the surface among residents. David, for example, realises he knew the killer many years before…

Channel 4’s on a roll

Paul Gould (played by Anatol Yusef) Ch4 Southcliffe
Paul (Anatol Yusef), right, was Steve’s boss

Southcliffe is directed by Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and written by Tony Grisoni, who gave us the equally hard-punching Red Riding. He’s done a great job in creating a group of complex, believable figures here, though it is hard to fathom why he told The Guardian that Southcliffe was not about a spree shooting, but rather a story about ‘people robbed of someone very close to them’. That’s true, but the shooting and Steve’s character are also powerful, defining elements in the drama.

Whatever… Channel 4 must be applauded for commissioning such a challenging, mature drama, one that steps away from the formulaic procedurals and whodunits on the other sides. Southcliffe also follows The Mill on Sunday night, making Channel 4 the place to be this weekend.

Part 2 of Southcliffe is on Monday night.

Cast: Sean Harris Stephen Norton, Rory Kinnear David Whitehead, Shirley Henderson Claire Salter, Eddie Marsan Andrew Salter, Hayley Squires Louise, Joe Dempsie Chris Cooper, Anatol Yusef Paul Gould, Coral Amiga Mattie, Paul Blackwell Police officer, Mickey Morris Young Stephen

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