So now we know. National Treasure has revealed the truth about Paul Finchley. Spoilers follow for anyone who hasn’t watched the series finale.
Robbie Coltrane’s character Paul was a rapist and paedophile, but he was acquitted of all charges by the court in a stunning climax to Channel 4’s National Treasure.
His defence team skilfully destroyed the cases of the two main witnesses who accused him of historic sex crimes.
They successfully painted babysitter Christina (Susan Lynch) as a fantasist keen to make money from her story. And Kate Hardie’s Rebecca Thornton had her claims torn apart after it was revealed she wrote the entertainer a fan letter a year after the alleged rape.
But, while the flashback suggested that 15-year-old Christina appeared to have submitted willingly to Finchley’s sexual advances, he seems to be guilty of having sexual relations with a minor in that case. And there was also nothing alleged about his attack on Rebecca.
It clearly was rape, and not only that, Finchley’s comedy partner Karl (Tim McInnerny) knew it. He came upon his friend in his trailer while he was committing the offence, his victim’s cries and struggles obvious to anyone with a set of ears, and did not intervene. Nor did he speak out when he could in court. As he disclosed, Karl knew that if Finchley were brought down, he too would have been destroyed by association.
It was a mesmerising and tense hour of drama that skillfully laid bare the important truths of this compelling story, but leaving just enough grey area and unanswered questions.
The courtroom scenes were harrowing to watch as the claims and counter claims were presented with unflinching brutality. There was nowhere to hide for Finchley and the two women.
Strangely, the key character in the whole episode, perhaps the whole drama, wasn’t in the dock: Marie, Finchley’s wife, superbly played by Julie Walters, emerged as the through line on which this whole drama hinged.
Her journey from trust of her husband’s word to her absolute belief in his guilt was deftly and sensitively handled by the scriptwriter Jack Thorne and the actress herself.
“There are layers of you, aren’t there?” Marie told her husband in the series finale, just before he was due to testify. She pleaded with him to be brave and face the truth, but of course he did not, presenting an excellent front to the court and the jurors that of course had little to do with the facts of the matter.
What he did do was use Marie, delivering a heartfelt apology to his wife from the dock. Some of that acknowledgement felt sincere, in fact. But as is the way of this nuanced drama, it also felt like a sheen of clever showmanship ably performed by a professional entertainer in a bid to get the jury on side.
In some respects, his guilt and the not guilty verdict was not a surprise. It would have been unexpected if a progressively-minded broadcaster like Channel 4 had presented a man like Finchley as an innocent man. It would have also been surprising, too, given the difficulties of securing real-life rape convictions, if it he had been found guilty.
What did come as a dramatic surprise were the final scenes. At the party he throws for his acquittal, Finchley appears to have lost his family.
His daughter Dee (Andrea Riseborough) archly remarks that she doesn’t see much shame in her Dad, regarding him with a suspicious coldness. And Marie? She seemed to have disappeared entirely, possibly with a view to being with Karl, with whom she had sex earlier in the episode.
More likely, though, she disappeared out of that hideous house and out of both their lives. After all, Karl showed that he was prepared to lie to protect himself and cause Finchley’s victims more pain, and Marie knew it. Karl also remains in the house when Marie is nowhere to be seen.
As for her husband, well, the fact that the woman he loves now knows him to be a lying rapist seems to be his principal – and only – punishment. At the end all he could do was vainly howl her name, over and over….