If you can remember back before the turkey, presents, alcohol, raging winds and driving rain, then you'll know that the TV schedule was surprisingly busy with new programs in the couple of weeks before Christmas. For their part ITV put out the ‘based on a true story’ Lucan which told the story, over two Wednesday nights, of the mysterious disappearance of the eponymous Lord ‘Lucky’ Lucan. Dealing with his life and the build up to the murder in the first part, and the repercussions of that murder in part two, this drama fills in the gaps that those born in the 1970’s may have; after all most of us have heard of Lucan but probably don’t know the full story.It’s always tricky watching this kind of thing as you’re never sure how much is true. Lucan has the benefit of being based on a book, ‘The Gamblers’ by John Pearson, which includes interviews with some of those involved and so has a bit more cachet than some biography dramas. There are obviously fabricated scenes, mainly the ones involving protagonists that are no longer alive, such as Alvers (Lucan’s confidante and financial backer) or the unfortunate victim (Sandra Rivett, the Lucan’s nanny). There’s never an issue with authenticity of the presentation though, the period dress, sets, and vehicles are all good, even the hair (an issue with many 70’s set programs) is realistic.
As a pure drama the story itself is reasonably gripping, and for someone that didn’t know the detail it was good to fill in the gaps and turn the mystical figure of fun that Lord Lucan became into someone all the more real. Unfortunately for him though he comes out of these three hours looking a pretty appalling human being. He gambles the family money away, he treats his wife with contempt and mental abuse, uses his friends for their money and social standing, and treats his own children as pawns to be traded by lawyers. It’s well played by Rory Kinnear, who doesn’t usually take on this kind of character, and there are starry supporting turns from a slightly ropey Christopher Eccleston, and, in not much more than a cameo, an impeccable as always Michael Gambon.
The first ninety minutes zips along, introducing characters and situations, helping the viewer to understand who is who, and setting up the pieces for the second part which deals with Lucan’s infamous disappearance. The second half is a little slower and full of guess work from various characters, as there’s obviously been no proven sightings of Lucan since November 1974 and so part two is hampered by little fact and lots of speculation. It also misses the anchor that Kinnear gave the first half of the story.If you didn’t know the detail going in, the story is far more miserable than you may have thought, and the true victim of the whole sordid episode was the nanny, Sandra Rivett. Over the years she has become forgotten in the light of the jokes about Lucan and by the fascination that the British public has with this larger than life figure who’s been living on the lamb for almost forty years. If this drama is to be believed he was anything but a lovable rogue. By the end of the two parter things are starting to get dragged out, and what started out as an interesting history lesson filling in some blanks of one of Britain’s most notorious figures ends up being stretched a little thin and ending, almost inevitably, with no answers and nothing new to say.