TV preview: Lucan | Hawking

Rory Kinnear as Lord Lucan in the ITV drama. Picture: Submitted
Rory Kinnear as Lord Lucan in the ITV drama. Picture: Submitted
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The fascination over the disappearance of Lord Lucan may be fading now, as more recent society scandals displace it in the public memory.

But LUCAN, a new two-part drama from ITV – and the associated controversy as the children of both the victim and the suspected murderer have criticised the series – may revive the case and even define how it is seen in the future. Based on John Pearson’s book, The Gamblers, Lucan presents this as a story of class war, with the nanny Sandra Rivett an accidental casualty.

Kinnear, with stick-on moustache, doesn’t look a great deal like photographs of the elusive aristocrat, who fled after the murder and was never officially seen again. But he captures the reported truculence of the man, who found it impossible to accept any criticism of his high-stakes gambling lifestyle, let alone his wife’s decision to divorce him and take the children. He’s impossible to sympathise with, but Kinnear shows how the mounting pressure of debts, drink and bad advice push him over the edge.

Though Kinnear recently won acclaim for playing Iago, here it’s Christopher Eccleston (who was also a memorable Iago in a TV version) who plays a 20th century version of that character, as John Aspinall, Lucan’s “friend” who also regularly fleeced him through his exclusive gambling club. A cold, scheming villain, in this portrayal, Aspinall sets himself to direct Lucan to “be a man” about his dilemma.

But it’s not just personal; he makes clear this is part of a fightback against losing the traditional privileges of their class: “Lucky is engaged in a struggle for the future of his line,” he tells other members of their set, chillingly. “The consequences of defeat are unthinkable.” Coming to the screen shortly after Eccleston’s brilliantly bloody-minded decision to skip the Doctor Who 50th birthday hoo-ha, it’s an intense reminder of this unpredictable actor’s insistence on trying to make his every performance count.

The punningly-titled STEPHEN HAWKING: A BRIEF HISTORY OF MINE is also about making time count. Given two or three years to live, in his 20s, the young scientist determined to use them to make his mark. Now 71, there’s a certain irony in wondering whether he would have achieved what he has – not just as a theoretical physicist, but as an international icon of mind over matter – without that diagnosis. “I was forced to travel through the universe in my mind,” he says, in that familiar computer-generated voice (an interesting sidenote is that Hawking has been offered more realistic voices, but chose to keep the one he’s recognised by).

This film by Stephen Finnegan has had unique access to his life with home movie footage, access to his daily routine and many interviews with friends and colleagues. So, unsurprisingly, it is an admiring, uncritical portrait – Hawking’s marital difficulties, for instance, don’t come into it, while challenges to his theories are brushed over. But then, there is so much to admire and this is an inspirational account of a man who beat the odds.

Wednesday, ITV, 9pm


Saturday, Channel 4, 7:15pm