Did we like it?
In parts, this was by turns an interesting and occasionally intense drama-documentary concerning the attempt to kidnap Princess Anne in 1974, but ultimately it was unsatisfying fare.
What was good about it?
• The central rendering of the would-be kidnapper Ian Ball was particularly good: sinister and dangerous yet clearly vulnerable.
• The contribution of Ball’s former workmate John Bryant, who beautifully parroted what everyone always says about dangerous criminals as he proclaimed he was, “a loner”, “weird” and that he “would never have put him down for doing something like that.” It always makes us laugh when people say that; it’s as if they expect dangerous criminals to go around explaining to everyone that they’re evil and might at any moment attempt to kidnap a Royal.
• The interesting contrasts between 1974 and present-day Britain. Ball was able to bring two guns back from Spain in a suitcase on a plane, for example, while Princess Anne’s security consisted of a single bodyguard with a faulty pistol.
• Intentional or not, factual or not, Ball’s obsession with Polo mints was a nice echo of Norman Bates’ love of peanut crackle.
• Ron Russell, a civilian honoured for his part in foiling Ball’s plot, wonderfully stated: “To me, what was going on that night was wrong.”
What was bad about it?
• The idea of combining real interviews with dramatisations of events is not new and it has worked in the past. Here, however, it didn’t. The dramatisations far outweighed the interviews and it felt as if the original plan might have been to have a greater balance between the two facets until the makers found that the interviews themselves weren’t substantial enough. In fact, the interviews merely served to disturb the tension created during the dramatisation and it may have made a more compelling programme had they ditched them altogether and concentrated solely on making a decent drama.
• Too often, Ball’s confessional interview was nakedly and lazily used to provide exposition to move the story forward: “The real challenge was changing my identity,” he said, unprompted, only to remark moments later how easy it was.
• Ball’s dramatised interview sat uncomfortably next to the real interviews with the people who found themselves caught up in the attempted kidnap.
• The most irritating aspect of the whole piece was the shooting style during the interviews with the real-life participants in the incident. Someone thought it would be a good idea for the cameraman to keep slipping the interviewees in and out of focus. What the point of this stupid pretentiousness was is anyone’s guess.