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a BritBox sequence starring Matthew Macfadyen

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Photograph: Courtesy of BritBox

Who is aware of, Hulu could already be growing a undertaking about pre-disgraced New York Consultant-elect George Santos (get carbo-loading, Anthony Ramos). If the doughy fraudster actually needs a sequence, he would possibly think about faking demise by drowning after which hiding out below an assumed identify in, say, Australia. It labored for crooked British MP John Stonehouse in 1974, a weird historic footnote dramatized in ITV/BritBox’s sly and classy Stonehouse.

Other than brevity—it’s primarily a segmented film—the interval dramedy’s chief asset is a tasty Matthew Macfadyen, armed with lush sideburns and a plummy baritone. As he has demonstrated over three (quickly to be 4) Succession seasons, Macfadyen is a grasp of obsequious masculinity below strain. The British actor’s innate grasp of caste and manners imbues toadying schemer Tom Wambsgams with palpable angst. Right here, much more at residence in British society and in a politely depressing marriage (reverse his real-life partner, Keeley Hawes), he runs limitless variations on puffed-up privilege deflated by its mediocrity and lying. Sharing John Cleese’s funny-tall-guy attribute, the 6-foot-3 star makes for a first-class squirmer; his cringe is our delight.

John Stonehouse (1925-1988) is the newest criminally corrupt ex-Parliamentarian to be resurrected on TV, after John Profumo in The Crown, Jeremy Thorpe in A Very English Scandal, and Lord Lucan in Lucan. In truth, each Stonehouse and Very English Scandal had been scripted by John Preston, and our hero is briefly mistaken for Lucan, additionally on the lam in 1974 (for murdering his kids’s nanny).

Nothing fairly so grisly drives the plot right here; our pompous protagonist secures a spot within the 1964 Labour cupboard of Prime Minister Harold Wilson (Kevin R. McNally) as Aviation Minister. Good-looking, married with kids, and comparatively younger, Stonehouse appears poised for a vibrant future in Parliament or even perhaps 10 Downing Avenue. Nevertheless, within the first 10 minutes of episode one, the seed of his downfall is planted.

On a diplomatic trip to Czechoslovakia, Stonehouse is seduced by his pretty blonde translator and filmed as they make love in his hotel room. The next morning, a bleary-eyed Stonehouse is shown the kompromat and goes straight into the pocket of the Soviet satellite state, handled by the weary, chain-smoking Marek (Igor Grabuzov). Appalled at the prospect of being exposed on the world stage as a bare-buttocked philanderer, Stonehouse gulps, then asks the Czechs, “Will I be paid?”

Greed, ambition, and a spoonful of lust (he soon woos his secretary Sheila, winningly played by Emer Heatley) are the basic—and mostly unexplored—ingredients of Stonehouse’s character. His lame attempts at espionage (“You’re the worst spy I’ve ever come across!” Marek fumes) get Stonehouse disbarred from the Czech embassy, and the bills for his extravagant lifestyle (think country manor) start piling up. Soon, the only way out seems to be staging his death by drowning during a business trip to Miami, then laying low in Melbourne with an identity forged from the birth certificate of a deceased constituent. The pitch meeting probably went something like this: Patricia Highsmith reimagined by Alan Bennett.

Stonehouse | BritBox Original Exclusive Trailer

Preston and director Jon S. Baird keep the action light, stylish, and dryly humorous. From title credits on down, there’s a Catch Me If You Can and Mad Males spirit of jazzy cool: groovy interval particulars (unironic plaid! classic trimphones!) and clipped dialogue. If something, the artistic workforce errs an excessive amount of on the aspect of sardonic glibness once they might have dug deeper into the psychology of such an elaborate narcissist or truthfully depicted the ache he inflicted on his household. Hawes (Bodyguard), a vibrant, passionate actor in her personal proper, will get too little display screen time as Barbara tries to grapple together with her husband’s pathology. Nonetheless, psychoanalysis itself is handled as one thing of a joke within the sequence, one other grift Stonehouse picks up in jail.

What actually drove the wayward MP, moreover egoistic satisfaction? Was he mentally unstable or a criminal? Political idealist or con man? Poisonous skirt-chaser or sad married man who fell in love along with his secretary? Some scenes from the general public report might make wealthy drama with a little bit of inspiration and license. Earlier than Stonehouse and Sheila had been extradited to England from Australia, Barbara supposedly demanded he select between her and the secretary. An agitated Stonehouse apparently threatened to kill himself after which collapsed into Sheila’s arms, giving Barbara her reply. Compared, that scene within the second episode is blandly understated, with Preston pulling again from both camp or trustworthy pathos.

In the long run, you pine for one thing (something) dredged up from the oily antihero’s childhood or sexuality; think about what (the residing) Stephen Poliakoff or (the very late) Dennis Potter might need carried out with such a real-life tragicomedy. At the least Macfadyen’s minutely calibrated efficiency—directly clear and guarded—makes a egocentric cipher’s rise and fall (and rise) satisfying. In the long run, the man’s lies and fraudulent schemes, nonetheless rigorously deliberate out, unravel with pathetic, comical velocity. The identify could also be Stonehouse, however the man was constructed of straw.

Stonehouse premieres January 17 on BritBox.

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