19 October 2020 02:33
Roadkill, BBC1, review: Hugh Laurie oozes slippery charisma as self-righteous Tory MP David Hare is back on form with this dispiritingly accurate, incestuous political drama Conservative Transport Minister Peter Laurence is self-righteous, arrogant and prepared to say or do anything to advance his career. Still, you'd probably favour him over any of the real-world Cabinet given he's played by Hugh Laurie, oozing the slippery charisma of his arms dealer in The Night Manager. David Hare's latest serial, Roadkill thankfully banishes his recent misfires featuring Olympic pole vaulters-turned-police detectives (Collateral) or Winona Ryder and Christopher Walken wafting around in the Caribbean (Turks & Caicos) to the distant past; Hare here is focused and angry without descending to didacticism or silliness. Laurence, with his working-class roots, is an amoral, populist shock jock with shady Stateside connections, a vocal proclivity for "freedom" and rather quieter one for widespread privatisation. He has emerged victorious and emboldened from a libel case against a newspaper after the journalist concerned (Sarah Greene) changed her story about him exploiting his position for cash.
i's TV newsletter: what you should watch next Email address is invalid Email address is invalid Thank you for subscribing! Sorry, there was a problem with your subscription. Helen McCrory as the 'gimlet-eyed' Prime Minister in Roadkill (Photo: The Forge/ BBC/ Robert Viglasky) Yet the mud has stuck and adversaries circle: Greene's hack Charmian Pepper, fired from her job and seeking revenge while managing her alcoholism; Helen McCrory's gimlet-eyed PM Dawn Ellison, focused as much on business as government and keeping her enemies close; even his own implausibly named Spad Duncan Knock (Iain De Caestecker) is briefing against him and sleeping with his counterpart in the PM's office. Watch out, too, for Pippa Bennett Warner's enigmatic lawyer and Sidse Babbett Knudsen as Laurence's mistress. Occasionally, I felt Hare reining in the urge to wade into Brexit – "Great Britain is going to be redefined," mused Laurence, "as what?" – but some sort of examination of the failed privatisation of the prison system and looming carve-up of the NHS feels inevitable: Laurence is "promoted" to minister of justice, just as a rumoured love child surfaces in a mutinous women's prison and stories circulate of him touting the NHS to rapacious Americans.
Read More The best TV drama series to watch in Autumn 2020, from The Crown to Des The story was crowded and occasionally implausible, but the incestuous, dysfunctional nature of politics felt dispiritingly accurate. Hare's targets here are specific and deserving: an abiding failure to admit fault, take responsibility for one's behaviour or adhere to basic principles. The term "resignation" has joined "soft Brexit" and "I agree with Nick" on the political scrapheap. I have a horrible feeling Peter Laurence won't be joining them. A BBC drama in which a Tory politician talks about Brexit. Please, Lord, save us from this hell. But hang on. "You have to forget about Brexit. It's in the past," said Peter Laurence, our hero (or not) in Roadkill (BBC One). "It was a national trauma but it was a trauma you came through. I'm not interested in the old arguments. The world is changing so fast." Ok, now you've got me interested. In other ways, Laurence (played by Hugh Laurie) conforms to the Tory politician of popular imagination. He's secretly trying to sell off the NHS: "Let's not say 'privatising'. Let's say 'preserving'." He's having an affair. His daughter is on drugs. He's part of the elite but affects to be just like ordinary people. Actually, you could probably apply all of those except the NHS one to politicians of every stripe, but this is a drama from David Hare, revered Left-wing playwright and Hampstead-dweller. So everyone is out for themselves and the Conservative Party is run by an unscrupulous and ice-cold PM, played by Helen McCrory in a powder blue power suit. She is called Dawn, which jars because she looks nothing like a Dawn. Perhaps names are Hare's blind spot; the main female character here, a journalist, is called Charmian Pepper. Laurie is great, just as he was in The Night Manager. It's a charismatic performance and he gets under the skin of Laurence: charming and affable and blokey enough to have his own Farage-esque radio show, but with something dark about him (quite literally, with that dye job). He considers himself to be bulletproof, having made it from humble beginnings and a "Jack the Lad" period through a career in business and on to politics, where we first meet him as Transport Secretary but with his eye on a bigger prize. Laurence is interesting because he is not a caricature or a villain. He's populist without that being an insult, a maverick but a bright one. "People like me because I break the rules - that's my appeal, that's my USP - voters think of me as a character, and they'd rather be led by characters than by zombies," he explains early on. There is something quite Eighties about him, in that he's a reminder of an era when Tory ministers were big characters, and not Matt Hancock. Anyway, everything is going well for Laurence - he's just won a libel case against Pepper - until a prisoner comes forward claiming that her friend and fellow inmate is Laurence's secret daughter, fathered during his louche Notting Hill days. He does what no sensible household name politician would do, but what Hare must make him do to propel the plot, and goes to the prison to find out more. At the same time, Pepper is determined to bring down his career.