DEBORAH ROSS: People coughed and no one scarpered. Imagine that!
Monday, BBC iPlayer
Oh Lord, just what we needed right now: a three-parter over three nights with the focus on coughing. Great. Thanks. Like I don’t want a break from having to think about coughing. But Quiz, which told the story of Charles Ingram (‘the Coughing Major’) and his wife Diana, who were convicted of cheating the prize money from Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in 2001, was a joy and a hoot. And also deeply fascinating. That underground army of quiz nerds. Who knew? And could the Ingrams have been innocent, in fact? This asked us to look again. This asked us to ask: when is a cough just a cough, and when is it a meaningful cough? So there was no break from that either. Damn.
Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant. Sheen performs his usual mimicking wizardry as Tarrant. (How does he do it? It’s miraculous)
This was adapted by James Graham from his stage play and directed by Stephen Frears, who came at it with the same verve and wit and feel for dark comedy he brought to A Very English Scandal. (The awkward Gilbert & Sullivan scene in Quiz’s first episode is one of the best, darkly comic scenes of all time.) The acting was also uniformly wonderful, with Matthew Macfadyen as Charles, Sian Clifford as Diana, and Michael Sheen performing his usual mimicking wizardry as Chris Tarrant. (How does he do it? It’s miraculous.) Framed by the court case, this took us from the creation of the show – Celador boss Paul Smith (Mark Bonnar) based it on the pub quiz as it combined the two favourite pastimes of Brits, ‘drinking and being right’ – to the verdict we know is coming. But was it the right one?
Certainly, this humanised all the main players, particularly Ingram, who is touchingly bumbling, and the kind of man who not only wears tri-colour polo shirts but also says ‘Bum!’ whenever he cocks up. (‘A Tim-nice-but-dim army type’ is how the production manager refers to him.) Diana is colder, more uptight, and was dubbed Lady Macbeth by the press, although why a woman who happens to be more ambitious than her husband always gets it in the neck, I don’t know.
But just as this was about them and their relationship – they have always protested their innocence and are still together – it was as much about Millionaire as a TV phenomenon, and the fanatical fans who cracked how to be chosen for the show. And that army of quiz nerds. Also, there was ‘The Syndicate’ and that secret room in London, and Diana’s brother Adrian (Trystan Gravelle), who was so obsessed with becoming a contestant he spent hours in his garage assembling a fastest-finger contraption to practise on. And later we moved on to mobile phones, pagers, unscrambled signals and Tecwen Whittock (Michael Jibson), the college lecturer who was in one of the Fastest Finger chairs the night Charles won and was convicted of being an accomplice.
Jodie Comer and Harriet Walter in Killing Eve. I thought I’d given up on Killing Eve after series two, as it had become repetitive and exhausted, but somehow I’m back
The dramatisation of the trial was also fascinating, throwing you one way and then the other. In the recording that ITV presented as evidence, it had isolated 19 coughs when, in fact, 192 were originally picked up. Coming from all parts of the audience. Also, how did Whittock know how not to cough when Charles knew the answer? On the other hand, Ingram’s sudden about-turns – ‘I’m going to say Berlin… no, Paris!’ – did seem deeply suspicious, as did Diana’s calls to Whittock.
However, this is four stars rather than five because, by leaving the Ingrams’ guilt or innocence hanging in the balance, it felt as if it was missing certain scenes. We saw plenty of the couple in private, but at no point did we see them talking about whether or not they had cheated, and while you understood how this served what Graham was trying to say about showbusiness as justice, it still seemed like an omission. The nearest we came to it was when the police were first involved and Diana said the accusations were ridiculous as ‘We’re from Wiltshire!’ But this was otherwise wholly gripping, as well as peculiarly nostalgic. Once upon a time, people coughed and everyone else didn’t immediately scarper. Imagine!
I thought I’d given up on Killing Eve after series two, as it had become repetitive and exhausted, but somehow I’m back. The first series ended with Villanelle (Jodie Comer) dead, except she wasn’t, and the second series ended with Eve (Sandra Oh) dead, except she isn’t – she’s now making dumplings in a Korean restaurant. But how often can a show do this? As often as Homeland did?
That said, for this third series they’ve drafted in Harriet Walter as a Russian assassin trainer, possibly in the belief that Walter can rescue anything, even if that’s not strictly the case (see ITV’s Belgravia). But, most interestingly, the focus has shifted more on to Fiona Shaw’s character, MI6 spy boss Carolyn, and already we are seeing something that both earlier series never really bothered with: depth. Which isn’t to say it’s no longer visually compelling. I’ve watched ahead to episode two, and the clowns, my God! So it’s back, and I’m back. For now.