Not too long after Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? began, like lots of British people I got caught up in the fever, even though I was only around eight at the time. My brother and I would even use one of the tie-in books and quiz each other, and owned the Game Boy Advance version too. This all leads up to considering the Charles and Diana Ingram case itself, which despite all the fever stands out to this day, resulting in this three-part miniseries. Post-trial I’ve kind of never stopped thinking about it since, so when they announced Stephen Frears was directing this three-parter and that James Graham (having written the excellent Brexit: The Uncivil War TV film) was scripting, I knew I’d watch it. Was it worth the wait?
My first answer – hilarious I know 😛 – is an immediate yes, admittedly down to keen curiosity initially, especially because it seems like to varying degrees – myself included – we’ve all been complicit in judging the Ingrams in question.
Now the first episode gives you key background both on them and the show’s genesis. Diana (played by Sian Clifford, who excels) evidently taps into Britain’s longstanding obsession with pub quizzes, while Charles (Matthew Macfadyen, excelling even more, perhaps because he plays the so-called more oddball of the couple) feels more comparatively modest.
At once a committed army major and family man, as much as Diana’s a family woman, he uniquely displays both reserve and charisma, a credit to Macfadyen that both qualities never jar. Subsequently, the real catalyst for Charles appearing on the show after Diana appears to be her brother, Adrian Pollock. Through an oddly compelling performance by Trystan Gravelle, the siblings’ broad quiz obsession draws everyone including us in, culminating via Adrian meeting the head of an underground quiz collective known as The Syndicate.
The head’s name is Paddy Spooner, and you feel even more fascinated by the mini-series and show itself given how Jeremy Killick plays him with such mysterious charm and intelligence. This leads into me talking about Chris Tarrant, the very famous presenter of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. He was approached to front it publicly, even though as a game show there was no guaranteed success, especially when we see how it initially disappoints as a pilot (then called Cash Mountain). Unsurprisingly Michael Sheen’s performance then arguably lingers the most afterwards, because as a fantastic actor playing a well-known star, you buy the reality of Tarrant’s charisma.
That’s hopefully enough background detail about the characters for now though! Does the first episode succeed on its own merits? I’d say so. It’s one part of an intricate picture so unsurprisingly as it’s all about backstory and leading up to Charles getting on the show, I continued suspecting he may be guilty. Episode number two though, when we get to see his appearance in full, fleshes out the picture with enough entertainment and nuance that by part two’s end, I flipped opinions.
Indeed, the real juice of that episode’s where we see the sheer repercussions of all staffs’ assumptions of guilt and the Ingrams’ involvement within the show play out. One incredibly fascinating detail appears to be when as ITV staff are in an intense meeting debating the situation, they switch a television to the news and (this actually happened) see 9/11 happening live. Nothing implies the two are comparable tragedy-wise but in terms of a concentrated “post-truth” atmosphere that this really emerged.
So we eventually get to the part-three finale. Repercussions continue and we see the trial essentially in full. Helen McCrory as the couple’s defence lawyer Sonia Woodley QC sets out quite a counter-picture of assuming guilt before innocence, the only description I can give of what she achieves without spelling out too much. “Confirmation bias” is all I’ll say, and by the final minutes I was even moved on behalf of all executives involved, so even as most sympathy goes towards the Ingrams, each side are given proportionate representation.
My final answer concerning the mini-series’s quality? Excellent! All involved are on fire, whether it be Sheen’s winning portrayal of Chris Tarrant or above all, James Graham’s superbly enlightening writing. You can’t miss Quiz, not given the current climate…