National Treasure: Is Paul Finchley guilty?

Ben Dowell analyses the evidence ahead of the final episode of Jack Thorne’s dark drama

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“We’re not a sort of whodunit, we’re not a sort of thriller by any means,” National Treasure writer Jack Thorne told RadioTimes.com recently about his new drama. “But it is a character study and it is one where we want the audience to feel like a jury in order to engage them in this issue.”

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It’s an interesting point which shows that the scriptwriter has a clear grasp of how some viewers are likely to respond to his drama about Robbie Coltrane’s faded entertainer Paul Finchley who is arrested for a series of alleged sexual offences.

Just as with the real-life Operation Yewtree (which the writer and production team are clear is the inspiration for this) there are no easy, absolutely clear answers, but there is one big question. Amid all the hints and evasions (Finchley seems very good at not giving much of himself away, doesn’t he?) the same nagging words burrow away: did he commit those awful crimes against vulnerable women? Is Paul Finchley guilty?

Well, after three episodes the answer seems to be on a knife-edge and we will find out tonight in the courtroom showdown of episode four if he is.

All the way through the drama it is as if Thorne is offering subtle clues, tiny bits of evidence for the prosecution, but then immediately mitigating them, as if he suddenly becomes a defence barrister popping up to destroy the case.

First on the prosecution’s side there is the high number of people – seven – who have made accusations against Finchley. But, as we know, real life juries have exonerated people in these circumstances.

How can we be sure Finchley’s accusers aren’t, as he claims, after fame and money? Finchley suggests the police have succeeded with their fishing operation – making sure the first accusation is made public so others come forward. Are they doing so because it happened – or because of the high profile nature of the case? 

Considering his habit of cavorting with prostitutes, it’s clear he is a man with a high libido and a low opinion of his wedding vows. Though, of course, having a high sex drive doesn’t necessarily mean you are a sex criminal. He does tell his spouse (Julie Walters’ staunch Christian Marie, below) about his extra-marital forays as soon as he strays. But on the other hand he still does it. Can he control himself?

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And what of those casual references to Viagra after the opening awards ceremony which prompted his comedy partner Karl (Tim McInnerny) to remark: “I never could tell when you were joking”.

Finchley can hide things, clearly, but are we to take it that even his long-standing comedy partner doesn’t feel he knows him? 

And of course there is the Dee question…

A lot of the drama has focused on Finchley’s troubled daughter, played by Andrea Riseborough, and teases out clues as to the reasons behind her fragile mental state.

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Is her Dad to blame? Did he abuse her? In episode one we saw a riveting scene between the two of them at her half-way house in which she described a vivid dream which, if my undergraduate understanding of Sigmund Freud is anything to go by, points to an extremely complicated relationship with her father.

Also, she appears to be present in the house when one of the attacks allegedly took place. We see young Dee in bed, counting to herself and in a state of high anxiety.

But nothing is ever simple and of course this is a drama which is as much about the elusiveness of truth as anything.

As Marie has said, her husband is “never unfaithful in an important way.” But she also says that she “chooses to believe” him. Eh? “Chooses”?

Over the past three episodes her faith in him has appeared to wane, and she has become increasingly drawn to her husband’s comedy partner Karl (Tim McInnerny).

In his interview with us, writer Thorne assures viewers that by the end of the four episode drama we will know the truth, even if he says he is himself none the wiser about some of the moral dilemmas that will continue to be presented by his story long after the series ends.

For my money, I have a sneaky suspicion that the answer is in Dee’s dream, but for now I’ll leave it at that…

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National Treasure airs on Channel 4 on Tuesday nights at 9pm

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