Review: National Treasure (S1 E4/4), Tuesday 11th October, Channel 4

national_treasure_delivers_its_verdict_on_robbie_coltrane_s_paul_finchleyOver the course of three episodes we’ve seen how the case against Paul Finchley has affected his family, not only making them suspect his integrity and innocence, but also questioning their own roles in the whole sordid affair. Am I a good daughter? Am I a good wife? Did I make him happy? Did I forget anything? Did his behaviour shape the person I am today? So far, it’s been supremely well acted and, because up until this episode we still didn’t know whether Finchley was guilty of the crimes he’s said to have committed, it’s been brilliantly written, too.

Where do start with this final episode? It was stunning, harrowing, gut-wrenching and engrossing. Something that made you sick to your stomach but, at the same time, couldn’t take your eyes off it. It was a 60 minutes that made you think about the outcome, and ponder society’s role in cases like this. Not many dramas do that, crime or otherwise. The way it was written, the way it was acted and finally, two-stage knock-out punch at the end was a searing indictment on the way we view and deal with survivors of rape and pedophilia, how we view celebrities and their sometimes shocking, exploitative abuse of power and status.

Before we get to the end, we must address the court scenes. It was the day the Finchleys went to have their say, but even before the devastating truth was revealed Marie had slept with Karl – who you always suspected might have a part to play in the outcome – and then admitted to her husband that she thought he had done it. Marie had been broken by some wince-inducingly invasive questioning by Finchley’s defence lawyers in the previous episode to the extent her belief in her husband had been completely eroded and her own role as a wife, as a mother and as a human utterly blasted away. “There are layers of you, aren’t there?” she asked him, rhetorically, just before he was about to be cross-examined. She knew. She felt his guilt.

The scenes where the two accusers – Christina and Rebecca Thornton – were in the box telling their version of events were extremely difficult to watch. They wept, dug their fingernails into their skin, felt their heart pounding as the sickening memories from the past gusted over them like a storm. As they recounted their stories (some upsettingly graphic), Finchley’s defence lawyer – Zoe – ruthlessly and methodically tore their statements apart, despite pleading from the accusers that their statements were true. As their experience in court became more and more soul-destroying, we saw Finchley, in the dock, with a tear streaking down his cheek; a pitiful globule of snot bubbling from his left nostril. At this stage we were unclear whether he felt guilt seeing these two women come apart in the witness box, or guilt because he had perpetrated the crimes and was seeing, first hand and for the first time, what the emotional consequences were.

On top of the harrowing nature of the cross-examinations, tension was heightened by the way these scenes were filmed. Very rarely did we see the lawyer – the camera was constantly focused on one person during a two-person conversation. This technique has been used throughout the series, allowing us to keep our eyes on the key person in the scene – to see every nuance and every slight reaction… anything that might give us a clue as to how that person was feeling and what they were thinking. It’s extra work for the actors, but this cast was more than up to the task, each of the main players – Coltrane, Walters and Riseborough – displaying human layers of believability, vulnerability, rage, bitterness and self-loathing. And this is what was brilliant about Jack Thorne’s writing: he gave us characters that weren’t one-dimensional or straight from a cookie-cutter. They were human and they were flawed, some shockingly so. But they were all human, whether we liked it or not. (It should also be noted that the always excellent Susan Lynch and Kate Hardie were also superb as Christina and Rebecca.)

When it came to Finchley, he admitted his foibles when cross-examined: he was a philanderer and still is a philanderer and adulterer, he liked to have violent sex with prostitutes, he had been awful to his wife. He wasn’t perfect, far from it. While he was recounting these lines, I was thinking that even if he wasn’t guilty of the crimes he was accused of, he still was guilty in many ways – his treatment of his wife, his daughter and the way he abused his power for sexual gratification all pointed to the acts of an arrogant, selfish and boorish man.

We only found out the truth in the final 10 minutes. Karl decided to lie on the stand, saying he hadn’t seen what had happened in the trailer with Rebecca Thornton, when in truth we saw and heard, in flashback form, screams of struggle as Karl waited outside the caravan while his partner overpowered his prey inside. We also saw Paul Finchley make sexual contact with the then 15-year-old Christina in his family home. He was guilty, but thanks to Karl he was found not guilty by the jury. Paul Finchley was guilty of lots of things – the crime and more – but thanks to an expensive and ruthless defence team, and a partner who was selfishly trying to protect his own legacy, he got away with it.

He got away with it.

It was a depressing, deflating feeling when those final few minutes of the courtroom scenes were played out. What message does this send to survivors of rape and sexual abuse by men? What encouragement does it give them to step forward and challenge their abusers? Or does laying bare the process, warts and all, act as a warning to us all?

In the end, Paul Finchley celebrated (a little too much, as his daughter Dee noted) but there was some punishment: Marie was nowhere to be seen, having left the family home that now stood for nothing; a castle of sand washed up in a toxic tide.

We left Paul Finchley screaming Marie’s name into the void, alone. For us, it was a chastening experience, and an examination of how a crime can destroy a family. It also asks, what is justice? But even more so National Treasure gave us all pause for thought, making us look at an uncomfortable truth – men abuse power to rape women, and society often forgives them for it.

Paul Hirons

For our episode one review, go here

For our episode two review, go here

For our episode three review, go here

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Patricia Cox says:

    Excellent review. I haven’t seen this series yet,and it may be too much for American PBS, but I buy a lot of DVDs in the abcense of Netflix. This is one to watch. Riveting review, and Robbie Coltrane and Julie Walters are always very good.


    1. Paul Hirons says:

      They were on absolutely top form in this Patricia. If you can get hold of it, it’s worth a watch (although uncomfortable and harrowing).


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