You’d think that everyone was fed up with politics by now, but the BBC has brought us a new political drama as Sunday night entertainment. Roadkill’s opening episode is mixed affair, shining whether Hugh Laurie or Helen McCrory is onscreen, but otherwise drowning in a script that often doesn’t work.
Peter Laurence (Hugh Laurie), the charismatic Transport Minister, has just won a libel case against a newspaper alleging he used and abused his office for financial gain. Fans of the so-called ‘man of the people’ are thrilled, and the prime minister Dawn Ellison (Helen McCrory) suggests he may be rewarded for this victory with a promotion to a great office of state in an upcoming cabinet reshuffle. But as his star is on the rise, his past threatens to make a reappearance. Ellison and her aide Julia (Olivia Vinall) are looking into his history, his driver Sydney (Emma Cunniffe) may have an axe to grind, and disgraced journalist Charmian Pepper (Sarah Greene) is determined to prove her story of financial misconduct is true.
Roadkill’s opening episode is mixed affair, shining whether Hugh Laurie or Helen McCrory is onscreen, but otherwise drowning in a script that often doesn’t work
Much of the marketing for this show centres around Hugh Laurie, and rightly so – he’s brilliant in the lead. He captures perfectly that sense of a polished and charismatic politician who would be loved by the press and the electorate, but there’s also that undercurrent of darkness – it’s not exactly clear what secrets Laurence has, but it’s clear they aren’t good. It’s a hard line to balance between likeable and awful, and Laurie manages both. In an interview with writer David Hare, we were told that Laurence isn’t based on any real figures, but it’s hard not to see a fusion of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson in Laurie’s exceptional performance.
The other key figure is McCrory as a steely Prime Minister, who never misses a beat and always exudes power. Both she and Laurie bounce off each other, and they share two great scenes together. In the second, Ellison goes back on her word and promotes Laurence to the Ministry of Justice – watch the subtle relish on McCrory’s face as she builds on to the gut punch, and the betrayal on Laurie’s, and tell me these two aren’t brilliant.
Unfortunately, despite a load of talented actors, these scenes are few and far between – much of Roadkill drags along slowly, with sketchy characters whose purpose in the show never felt over right, and is glossed over with quirky music. In one case, Laurence’s barrister Rochelle (Pippa Bennett-Warner) is somehow enticed into investigating her own client after the court victory, and the lack of justification makes this jar. Ellison’s decision to betray Laurence seems to have been inspired by Julia largely for a laugh, and there’s a love-child set-up in a prison that realistically wouldn’t be the career destroyer it’s framed as. These will likely be developed in later episodes but, for now, these characters are gap-fillers until Laurie reappears.
Putting Laurie and McCrory’s brilliant performances aside, there’s not a lot here to draw you in at the moment, but I don’t particularly dislike it either
In many cases, the writing wasn’t overly sharp, leading to some poor character decisions and some moments that stretched belief a little too far. Although I liked Sarah Greene’s acting, her character was baffling – she’s a journalist so frustratingly naïve, she finds it hard to believe she’s being sacked after changing her story in court and costing her paper £1.5 million in damages. We’re supposed to find it a shocking development, but it felt to me like an eminent, reasonable one. She moves from this into a very clumsily written one-night stand, which feels like an awkward and unnecessarily coincidental attempt to help propel her narrative.
Roadkill feels as though it has a lot of potential to be realised, but episode one simply doesn’t. Putting Laurie and McCrory’s brilliant performances aside, there’s not a lot here to draw you in at the moment, but I don’t particularly dislike it either. Now the groundwork has been laid, I’m intrigued to see where Roadkill goes next and, if it gives its strong supporting cast some believable things to do, it could be a very solid show yet.