REVIEW: He’s portrayed some of Britain’s most controversial and polarising figures with a skilled eye for detail and ear for cadence.
Brian Clough, Tony Blair, David Frost, Kenneth Williams have all gotten the Michael Sheen treatment, as the Welsh actor has uncannily captured their essence for dramatic purposes.
The latest public figure in the now 51-year-old’s sights? The original Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? host Chris Tarrant for a three-part dramatisation of the long-running show’s biggest scandal.
Yes, Quiz (Thursday, 8.30pm on SoHo and then available on demand on Lightbox) is the story of the infamous 2001 incident that gripped the world. Major Charles Ingram (Matthew Macfadyen) thought he’d become only the fourth person to win the £1 million top prize. But even as he competed, producers were concerned at his erratic behaviour, gaps in basic knowledge and his transformation between the two recording days. Then there was the unusual amount of background noise in the studio, mainly made by one man with a persistent cough.
Quiz stars Michael Sheen and Matthew Macfadyen.
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Based on Bob Woffinden and James Plaskett’s 2015 detailed investigation into the affair, Bad Show: The Quiz, The Cough, The Millionaire Major, and adapted by James Graham from his own 2017 play of the same name, Quiz will surprise and delight in its even-handedness and compelling recreation of events.
Using the 2003 trial of Ingram, wife Diana (Sian Clifford) and Tecwen Whittock (Michael Jibson) as the starting point, the tale details the show’s 1998 birth (it was originally called Cash Mountain) and Diana and brother Adrian’s (Trystan Gravelle) determination to gain fame and fortune on it.
Quiz reveals how they ended up as part of a group of near-militant, professional pub quiz “eggheads”, hellbent on breaking the show, using its decision to select contestants via a process (which, somewhat scandalously in its own right, was how the show was funded, potentially bankrupting many wannabe players in their quest to make the studio), rather than casting, against them. And when both Adrian and Diana only came away with modest amounts, they pushed a very reticent Charles (“I don’t even like quizzes”) towards the hot seat, armed with a seemingly infallible and, they thought, undetectable plan.
Director Stephen Frears (A Very English Scandal, The Queen) does a fabulous job of setting the pieces in motion and establishing character, before unleashing the central “heist” in its evocative and detailed glory. Naturally that includes a quite uncanny rendition of Tarrant’s dulcet tones by Sheen, although, while he’s the scene-stealer, he’s not the heart of the show. That honour falls to Gravelle, Clifford and Macfadyen, with the first pair stunningly crafting somewhat tragic, obsessive figures and Macfadyen playing Ingram as a hapless, reluctant “frontman”.
A fabulous drama that will not only bring back memories of simpler times and the power of event, appointment television, Quiz also will make you look at the whole farrago in, potentially, a completely different light.
Matthew Rhys stars as legendary lawyer Perry Mason in a new adaptation, which begins screening on SoHo and Neon next week.
Meanwhile, Sheen’s fellow Welsh actor Matthew Rhys helps resurrect another beloved piece of television history in Perry Mason (Monday, 8.30pm, SoHo, then on-demand on Neon). Be warned though, this isn’t your grandmother’s favourite crusading criminal defence lawyer, as portrayed by Raymond Burr over more than 250 episodes from the late 1950s. Rather this is an eight-part, 1932-set origin story that hews closer to Erle Stanley Gardner’s original novels and feels more like Boardwalk Empire or Peaky Blinders.
Rhys’ world-weary Mason is living on his deceased parents’ farm, down on his luck, estranged from his nine-year-old son and barely scraping a living together as a private detective. That’s when his old friend E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow) comes to him with a case far bigger than his usual “chasing Hollywood stars across town to ensure they’re keeping to their morality clauses”.
Matthew and Emily Dodson have had an unspeakable act carried out against them. After their baby was kidnapped, they dutifully paid the ransom, only for him to be returned not only dead, but mutilated. E.B. doesn’t trust the LAPD to do their job, that’s why he needs the services of professional “busy body” Mason to get the heart of what really happened.
Series creators Ron Fitzgerald (Westworld) and Rolin Jones (Weeds) have done a truly breathtaking job of a creating a sense of space and place. This is a gritty, grimy Los Angeles, filled with sex and violence, neither of which are shied away from or portrayed prettily. There’s a sense of menace, but also despair in Mason’s City of Angels and Rhys (The Americans) almost instantly makes the troubled investigator a character you want to spend time with and learn more about.
Throw in a superb supporting cast that also includes Tatiana Maslany, Juliet Rylance, Robert Patrick and Lili Taylor and a suitably atmospheric jazz-infused soundtrack and the result is one of the year’s best dramas.