REVIEW: Trust (S1 E7/10)

The deal’s done, the money’s counted, all parties are happy, everything’s set up; John Paul Junior’s ransom is being paid, and he’s coming home. What could possibly go wrong? Well, we are talking about the Getty family; so the answer, is, everything.

With the mafia seemingly happy with the negotiated settlement of $5m, after all this time, it looks as if the kidnap ordeal is over; but let’s not forget that Trust is not entirely about the crime and its consequences, it’s also about the Getty family, its twisted psychology, and the effect the monstrous Getty Sr has had on the rest of his family.

And there’s a big gap in the story, which is filled by this episode – the history of Paul Jr, Getty Sr’s despised son. How and why did he come to fall from grace with his pa, and how much is the current situation his fault?

Paul Jr, played with a tense nervousness by Michael Esper, has been all but disowned by Getty Sr – but why? He was the one of the three sons to show the most interest in his father’s business, he had a solid marriage and a child and seemed willing to work to earn his father’s approval. So where did it all go wrong?

As he sits in London looking through Kodachrome home movies with his dealer Pauline, Paul Jr recalls his life in California in the 60s; broke but happy, he was pumping gas at a Getty petrol station when he got the summons to meet the old man in Rome.

Getty Sr, who prefers to be called Paul rather than Dad, seems hospitable, but soon demonstrates his innate nuttiness; he hits on Paul’s wife Gail, shows John Paul Jr paintings of crucifixions, and finally throws him into the harbour to teach him how to swim. Parents, eh?

Nonetheless, he offers Paul Jr a job managing an Italian oil company. Initially, all seems fine, but Paul soon buckles under the pressure; none of his plans match Getty Sr’s expectations, he doesn’t understand the art of the deal, he fires all the wrong people, and he becomes reliant on drugs and booze. Getty takes him off the job.

Gail, meanwhile, turns to bit-part actor Lang Jeffries (John Schwab) for comfort, and Paul turns to spectacular actress Talitha Pol (Bella Dayne).

Talitha was a central figure in 60s bohemian culture  – she captivated Rudolf Nureyev, entertained the Beatles, the Stones and Yves St Laurent, hosted the most decadent parties, and was profiled in Vogue. Photos of her and Paul on a rooftop in Marrakech taken by Patrick Lichfield practically defined bohemian fashion and lifestyle. (Look for them online – they are wonderfully evocative, and beautifully recreated in Trust in a fleeting movie clip – a tribute to the terrific amount of work she series will go to in order to recreate iconic moments in history).

John Paul Jr is equally entranced by Talitha, and drawn into her drug-fuelled lifestyle. Inevitably, it all goes wrong in 1971, when Talitha dies of a suspected heroin overdose (around the same time as the deaths of Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin). The luminous Bella Dayne (we saw her as Helen in Troy – Fall of a City and as Niska’s girlfriend Astrid in Humans) channels Talitha effectively, in a brief but pivotal role.

Paul, then, devastated by the death of Talitha, leaves his job, his family and Italy, hides away in London, and devotes himself to his art collection. Getty Sr cuts off all contact, repulsed as much as anything by Paul’s drug use (and we have yet to be given an explanation of why Getty Sr is so anti-drugs, considering that he enjoys every other sensual indulgence).

Hence Paul Jr’s procrastination when he’s called on to act as middleman in the ransom negotiations; he’s so paralysed by a desire to please his father, that he can’t act.

Getty Sr, meanwhile, has his own concerns; his flunky Lansing (a cameo by comic Rob Delaney) reveals that Penelope is having an affair with Polish war hero Patrick de Laszlo, so she’s out of the will – well, she gets $1, a typical Getty gesture of contempt.

Equally contemptuous is Getty’s final trick – he reveals to Paul Jr that the $5m ransom money will come not from his own funds, but from Paul Jr’s share of the family trust.

Paul is horrified, and refuses to go through with the transaction – but just wait a minute. He’s castigated Getty Sr for his initial refusal to pay a ransom, but when it comes down to paying out to save his own son, he’s equally reluctant. What is wrong with this family? Well, after this episode, we really know – every generation has been poisoned by the legacy of the old man.

As John Paul Jr waits to be ransomed on his birthday, thuggish Primo realises the money is never going to come; if things looked bad for John Paul Jr before now they’re beyond bleak. As Gail blows out John Paul Jr’s birthday candles, we feel he’s facing doom.

What an episode! Stuffed with beautiful photography, evocative music, insightful characterisation and telling dialogue. Love, grief, nostalgia, loss, despair, it’s all here – Trust may yet become more eventful and more emotionally draining, but surely we’ll see nothing on television more thoughtful, complex and multi-layered than Kodachrome.

Chris Jenkins








7 Comments Add yours

  1. Andy D says:

    Great review. I found Paul Jr’s journey through this show to be one of the saddest. Although I can imagine no son/grandson ever matched up to the merits of Getty, such was his own hubris.


  2. Maria says:

    I’ve been fascinated by John Paul Getty in a queasy sort of way ever since I heard him many years ago interviewed on radio. Among other things, he explained why he had a pay phone installed at his home for his guests’ use. I suppose the fact is that billionaires are the living proof that if you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves. I’ve never seen Donald Sutherland give such a brilliant performance. He captures the revolting fascination of the man perfectly.

    It seems the only decent person in the whole story is Gail, young Paul’s mother, but she’s completely out of her depth in trying to deal with this monstrous family, and even she is sometimes misled and corrupted by their values. I’ve read a bit about the aftermath of the kidnapping, and see that young Paul had a pretty tragic life and that his mother took care of him for years when he was quadriplegic until his death. Hilary Swank conveys brilliantly Gail’s basic decency and genuine love for her family.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Chris Jenkins says:

    Oh yes, Sutherland’s performance in Trust has been supernaturally good, he deserves every award going. There’s an Alan Whicker interview with Getty Sr on iPlayer at the moment, it makes fascinating viewing.


    1. Maria says:

      Thanks for mentioning this interview ‘The Solitary Billionaire’ which I’ve just watched and will recommend to others. I think people watching it in 1963 might have thought Getty had a sort of eccentric charm. Knowing what we know happened a few years later, I felt it made his attitude towards his grandson’s kidnapping seem even more unforgivable. The figures quoted for his annual income and most of his assets (apart from the old masters – £150,00 for a Rubens?) still sound astronomical today, 55 years later. He wouldn’t have missed the ransom money for a moment. His original excuse that, if he paid, his other grandchildren would be at risk, had validity, but any normal person would have taken that risk. Still, maybe it isn’t surprising since he was obviously too stingy to pay out for decent dentistry. By the way, anybody who like me is old enough to remember the bitter winter of 1962-63 will get a reminder of it if they watch this programme.


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