Did we like it?
While David Suchet was magnetic as the corrupt newspaper magnate, too much of the script concentrated on his will-sapping, opaque business incompetence. If the BBC had supplied an information sheet on the intricacies of financial malpractice on their website it would have been far easier to watch; but on the other hand, who would choose to read an information sheet about finance?
What was good about it?
• David Suchet was marvellous as the tyrannical entrepreneur-cum-common crook Robert Maxwell. Even though he had very little to play against to generate tension and character, whenever Suchet was on screen he utterly dominated proceedings.
• Yet it was only when the script dealt with human conflict rather than Maxwell railroading his lily-livered dogsbodies into gross financial disasters that created drama that was captivating. Most intriguing was the relationship between the bullying, overbearing Maxwell and his timid son Kevin. (Ben Caplan). Maxwell’s resonant voice caused the heavens to shake whenever he was angry, but in contrast Kevin’s was soft, feminine even, and this made the domineering of father over son far more believable and graphic. It also served to illustrate how close Maxwell was to his rightful doom when Kevin stood up to him.
• Similarly, Maxwell’s relationships with his secretary Andrea (Daniela Denby-Ashe) and his miserable wife Betty (Patricia Hodge) also kept the attention as in both cases the women would not kowtow to his verbal bullying. It was just a pity that this drama couldn’t have concentrated more on the inter-personal two-way relationships in Maxwell’s life rather than the one-way relationships he had with his Mirror Group minions or money itself.
What was bad about it?
• It was the focus of Maxwell’s obsession with money that was the real cause of the downfall of this programme. It was quite clever to show that Maxwell didn’t believe in money as such but could only relate to other people through the medium of money, such as when he tried to make a passing security guard and Andrea happy by increasing their salaries. However, it was the very fact that he struggled to relate to people through any other medium than money is what made much of Maxwell so very dull.
• The only common factor segueing together the chapters was Maxwell’s misuse and abuse of money, which meant there were numerous scenes when a bunch of grey men in grey suits spent an eternity churning out dreary exposition on the consequences of Maxwell’s financial folly. And any moments of high drama were about the often impenetrable world of shares and releasing capital to finance something or the other making it resemble picking up a maths A-level question paper a decade after you last tackled a quadratic equation.
• The character who should have questioned Maxwell on such matters was his new finance director Basil Brooks (Dan Stevens), but he was in and out of the story far too sporadically for him to establish an effective presence. This left many scenes bereft of engaging tension such as when, to Maxwell’s horror, the newly floated Daily Mirror starts to precipitously plummet on the stock exchange – all that occurs is the Mirror editor meekly describing the falling value while Maxwell disgorges a bit of empty bluster.