It’s the final episode, and time for the trial of Paul Finchley. I’ve said before that a criminal trial is a gift to any TV show because it’s actually quite difficult to make it something other than exciting. To start with, though, National Treasure has a good try, shooting the action using odd angles and heightened colours which distract from, rather than amplify, the tension of the courtroom. It’s no surprise to discover that the episode was directed by Marc Munden, who was also involved with the far superior Utopia, a show in which these devices were, perhaps, more appropriate. (It’s also worth saying that the score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer – also part of the Utopia team – really hits home this week, particularly in the final scene.)
Slowly, though, the episode starts to assert its power: The complainants give evidence, and are then picked apart by Paul’s barrister (a commanding Kerry Fox) as he watches on, mostly impassive and unreadable, apart from the startling moment when a couple of tears trickle down his face. Despite his barrister’s success Paul insists on going into the witness box himself: frequently a dangerous thing to do, and he too is thoroughly compromised on the witness stand; he maintains his innocence of the charges, but what he admits to is damaging enough.
In the middle of all this, Paul’s wife Marie finally makes up her mind about her husband’s guilt after months of equivocating: “I think”, she tells her husband, “you did it”. She then takes up Karl’s long-standing offer and sleeps with him, although the post-coital conversation suggests that, on one level at least, she was hoping to seduce him into giving evidence indicative of Paul’s guilt. The problem for Karl, though, is that if Paul is convicted, it will feel to him as if his own career as Paul’s comedy partner has been invalidated; thus, when he comes to give evidence, he maintains that he remembers nothing about a key incident.
Which takes us to the big reveals. At the start of the season I predicted that we would probably be left wondering about Paul’s actual guilt or innocence, whatever the jury’s verdict. Well, I got that wrong: before the verdict is delivered we get to see, in flashback, that he is indeed a sexual predator, and very guilty of both of the crimes of which he’s been accused. (Also, perhaps, although it’s not mentioned further, the allegations which didn’t make it as far as the trial? And presumably it’s established that Karl has, in fact, been an enabler, if not a participant?) Once we know that, it’s almost inevitable that the jury will find him not guilty, and so it turns out.
And so, although there’s an obligatory celebration party on the back of Paul’s acquittal, it’s necessarily rendered entirely hollow for the viewer – maybe for Paul himself – by that knowledge, and for Paul by Marie’s absence. Whether that’s a temporary or permanent situation is left unanswered, as is whether Paul genuinely thought he was telling the truth, and the key issue of whether he directly abused his daughter, or whether she was damaged by watching her father and her babysitter together. Or, maybe, whether her problems are nothing to do with either. As the show has answered the big questions, I’m quite happy with one or two being left up to the viewer to think about.
I’m still very much of the view that the second and third episodes could have been telescoped into one without any great loss. Allowing for that, though, this was undoubtedly one of the better British dramas I’ve seen, and further proof, were it needed, that Robbie Coltrane is a major talent. Julie Walters, Andrea Riseborough, and Babou Ceesay were also excellent.