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Wednesday, 12 October 2016

National Treasure: The final verdict.

There's a moment in the final episode of National Treasure where the camera pans across to Robbie Coltrane. He's sat in the dock at his trail listening to brutal testimony from the women who accuse him of unspeakable crimes. At this point we can hear the the testimony but the camera's focus is on Coltrane. He appears deeply affected by the words he's hearing and a solitary tear rolls down his face. As an audience member this leaves you conflicted. Is this tear a reflection of a man so horrified by the claims he's hearing that he is overcome with profound emotion? Or is this a man recalling those events and reflecting on the life that he stands to lose when he's found guilty?

Throughout its run Jack Thorne's unflinching script has asked as many questions to its audience as it has to its lead. We know our 'National Treasure' is far from a saint. He has been unfaithful to his wife Marie (the flawless Julie Walters) on countless times during their long marriage and we've seen him call on prostitutes. Coltrane plays Paul Finchley with an air of mystery. He could be a man who has found himself in this courtroom because he's a well known celebrity, but it's just as believable that his younger self could be capable of the horrifying crimes.

Jack Thorne's script has never shied from the heartbreaking realities of the allegations leveled at our 'National Treasure' but listening to the testimony was difficult. The cleverly crafted script and direction put audience members on the jury but also put focus on Paul's loyal wife Marie who had been slowly doubting her husband's innocence as the series progressed. In one of the best scenes of the series Marie confronted daughter Dee when she questioned her father's guilt. "Your father has done some things. But I choose to believe him." Marie started out as her husband's number one defender branding the girls as 'fame hungry', but as the story reached its harrowing conclusion I realised this wasn't really Paul's story at all. This was about Marie. It's about what happens when you finally see the man you've devoted your life to for the man he really is. The case caused Marie to reevaluate her relationship with her husband and revisit elements of their past.

There's a scene in this final episode where Marie lies awake listening to her husband's laboured breathing. She sneaks out of bed, and out of the house. When we next see her she's knocking on the door of Paul's comedy partner Carl. "I haven't brushed my teeth but you can kiss me if you like?" We learnt in third episode that Carl has always loved Marie and pledged to look after her should Paul be found guilty. The next scene saw Marie in bed with her husband's comedy partner. This something we'd come to expect from Paul but not from Marie. I didn't initially understand it but, as ever Marie had a plan. She knew Carl had longed for this moment for years and she used it as opportunity to try and get Carl to admit he'd heard or seen something from Paul's trailer on the day the alleged rape took place.

However, when Carl when took the stand he said he had a terrible memory and didn't even remember the day in question and Marie lost faith in the other man in her life. Marie's torture wasn't over. As Paul prepared to take the stand the husband and wife shared one final moment together. With Marie saying 'we paid handsomely for your innocence. You don't lie, I don't think you lie, I think you believe everything". The once devoted wife and staunch defender told her husband she believes he's a man of many layers and that she believed he was capable of anything. "I think you did it. Be brave Paul, try and remember the man you are" Hearing this from your wife can't be easy but the heavily layered Finchley sits stoically and says. "you've never loved me the way you thought you did."

Paul's time on the stand was a difficult watch. He was unflinching, often unapologetic and honest about his sexual exploits. It wasn't difficult because we'd warmed to Paul but more because we'd warmed to Marie and his daughter Dee.

 As the verdict was read out the script cleverly returned to flashbacks to show the audience what we'd been worryingly suspecting all along. The allegations were true.  Paul had had a relationship with the babysitter and he had taken advantage of a starstruck fan in his trailer. Carl had heard her screams but had decided not to knock on the trailer door to save her and part of Marie knew all this too. This made the eventual not guilty verdict even more shocking. The jury presumably believing that Finchley's accusers were hungry for money and exposure and they chose to believe a man the majority of them had grown up with wasn't capable of such unspeakable things with young girls.

The scenes that followed showed Finchley at home with celebrities pals, his agent telling him his gameshow wants him back and that they should write a book. As the finale reached its final moments Paul realises he hasn't spoken to his wife. He searches the packed house frantically with the credits rolling on his tortured face as it dawns on that he may have been found not guilty but that the one person he needs to believe him has left him.

2016 has been stellar year for British drama but National Treasure was in a class of its own. The mesmerizing performances from Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters and  Andrea Riseborough coupled with Jack Thorne's flawless script made this one of the best British dramas in recent memory. It was a difficult and harrowing watch at times but a necessary one. Everyone involved should be commended this was a tale that shone a light on an all too familiar aspect of modern life.

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