So the big conspiracy was a little bigger than I suggested it might be, with a juicy tale about a psychiatric hospital, blackmail, rape, babies-for-sale and so on emerging in this final episode. Unfortunately, most of the Deep Throating was done by the ludicrous, raspy-voiced Tulse, mysteriously hiding in his mysterious flat, jealously guarding his mysteries. John Simm was obliged to speak very slowly in his scene with Tulse, presumably to pad the material out a bit. Anyway, once we’d got the big reveals out of the way Exile managed to conjure up a moving finale, although once again this was due largely to the exemplary cast: Simm walks away with reputation intact; Jim Broadbent confirmed that there aren’t many better British actors of his generation; and Olivia Colman has, I imagine, jumped to the top of every producer’s wish-list. In the final analysis Exile wasn’t bad at all, in fairness, but I can’t claim to have been overwhelmed.
At only three episodes long, I was kind of expecting Exile to get a bit of a move on tonight; instead, I was left with the feeling that it was taking a hell of a long time to get wherever it wanted to go. And all that we really know about the evil Metzler (Timothy West, exuding affable menace) is that he might have been underqualified to practise as a doctor thirty years ago, which is clearly naughty, but hardly something you’d want to hang your hat on as the centrepiece of a conspiracy drama. Which, together with Tom’s birth certificate, suggests that Sam might have been investigating something a little more personal. I also wonder about the wisdom of Tom blabbing everything to new squeeze Mandy (Claire Goose); it doesn’t strike me as impossible that she might be mixed up somehow in whatever-it-is, given the interconnections we’ve already seen. Anyway, Exile continues to get pass marks primarily on the basis of the acting, which counterbalances my reservations about the plotting.
Drug-snorting, hard-drinking London men’s mag journo Tom (John Simm) is sacked for some unspecified atrocity and returns to his family home up North, where his sister Nancy (Olivia Colman) cares for his father Sam (Jim Broadbent). Sam has Alzheimer’s, the effect of which is shown in unsparing detail, although before that he was also a journalist, of a slightly more old-school, investigative sort. Sam and Tom essentially parted company in Tom’s youth, when his curiosity about the contents of his father’s study led him to a mysterious file about local heavyweight businessman/politician Metzler. On catching Tom going through the file, Sam gave him a fearful beating for reasons never explained or explored. Nancy seems to have been left in sole custody of their father and, unsurprisingly, is resentful; meantime Tom wanders into a local bar, meets the sister of an old girlfriend, and within hours is underneath her in what turns out to be the bed she shares with her husband, who now works for Metzler.
Nothing particularly remarkable so far, but what makes Exile more than the sum of its parts is the acting: Simm brings his trademark intensity to the part of Tom; Broadbent is remarkable as the fleetingly lucid Sam, resisting the temptation to overact; and Colman is absolutely spot-on as the thwarted Nancy. Over and above that, though, the cast is exceptional at exploring the dynamics of the uncomfortable relationships between the characters, in particular Tom and Nancy as estranged siblings starting to re-establish their connection. At this stage, it seems to me fanciful to suggest that Exile might be the best drama of the year, but it’s likely to be one of the best-acted, and I’ll be back for part 2 on Monday.